* S&P on track for fifth straight quarterly advance
* Gains broad, materials and tech outperform
* Yellen says central bank commitment needed for some time
* Prana Biotech tumbles after Alzheimer's drug results
* Indexes up: Dow 0.8 pct, S&P 0.8 pct, Nasdaq 1.1 pct
(Updates to afternoon trading)
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, March 31 U.S. stocks rose on Monday,
with the S&P 500 on track to end the first quarter of 2014 with
slight gains, after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen calmed
concerns about a rate hike coming earlier than expected.
Gains were broad, with nine of the S&P 500's 10 primary
sectors rising on the day. Material stocks were the
biggest gainers, jumping 1.8 percent, while utility stocks
were up 1.6 percent.
Technology and financial shares, which along with materials
are tied to the pace of economic growth, also outperformed on
the day. Micron Tech climbed 7.2 percent to $23.48 while
Oracle Corp added 3.6 percent to $40.98.
In her first public speech since becoming Fed chair two
months ago, Yellen said that the U.S. central bank's
"extraordinary" commitment to boosting the economy would be
needed for some time to come.
Earlier this month, Yellen raised concerns by saying that
the period between the end of the Fed's quantitative easing
program and the first rate increase from the central bank could
be six months, a faster timeline than many had anticipated.
"What Yellen did today was to alleviate that confusion and
provide more clarity. When there aren't concerns about the Fed
tightening, the market can breathe easier," said Joseph Tanious,
global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management in New
Biotech stocks continued to be in focus following recent
volatility when investors sharply took profits in the
high-flying sector. The Nasdaq Biotechnology index jumped
2.7 percent, following a 7 percent decline last week, in what
was the index's fifth consecutive weekly decline.
Among some of the more active names, Vertex Pharmaceuticals
climbed 4.9 percent to $71.10 and Biogen Idec
added 3.5 percent to $304.38.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 136.83
points, or 0.84 percent, at 16,459.89. The Standard & Poor's 500
Index was up 14.44 points, or 0.78 percent, at 1,872.06.
The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 45.59 points, or 1.10
percent, at 4,201.35.
Equities also received a boost from end-of-quarter "window
dressing," when money managers adjust positions to improve the
look of their portfolios.
With Monday's advance, the S&P 500 is up 0.7 percent for the
month and up 1.3 percent for the quarter, the benchmark index's
fifth straight quarterly rise, though its worst quarterly
performance since the last quarter of 2012.
The Dow is up 0.8 percent for the month but down 0.7 percent
for the quarter. The Nasdaq is down 2.5 percent for March but up
0.6 percent for the quarter.
The Institute for Supply Management-Chicago business
barometer was at 55.9 in March, its lowest level since August
and down from 59.8 in February. Economists' median forecast in a
Reuters poll was 59.0.
U.S.-listed shares of Prana Biotechnology Ltd
plunged 70.9 percent to $2.87 after the company said its
experimental drug to treat Alzheimer's disease failed to meet
the main goal of a mid-stage study in patients with a mild form
of the condition.
Logistics company UTi Worldwide Inc reported a
bigger-than-expected quarterly loss, hurt by weak demand for air
freight as customers opted for cheaper modes of shipping. Its
shares slumped 8.6 percent to $10.29.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski)