Wall Street rises, ending best week since November

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks scored their best week since November on Friday as a broker upgraded Merck & Co MRK.N, saying its deal to buy a rival was shrewd, and Citigroup C.N said it did not need any more government aid.

Merck gave the Dow its biggest boost after Sanford C. Bernstein upgraded the drug maker's stock to "outperform," saying its deal to buy Schering Plough Corp SGP.N would add value at a decent price.

The S&P marked its third best week since World War II and was initially underpinned by comments from Citigroup's C.N Chairman Richard Parsons to Reuters late Thursday that the bank did not need any more government aid, sending its stock up more than 6 percent.

An index of bank stocks .BKX rose 37 percent this week after several top bank executives suggested the industry is stabilizing. The comments began to reverse several months of serious pessimism about the industry's fate, lifting each of the major indexes to their best week since the end of November.

The rally in drug stocks came after sharp declines in the sector in the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s budget, as investors bet it would choke profits.

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“We’re certainly seeing buying today in health care on the depressed stock prices and high dividend yields that this group enjoys right now,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Asset Management in Bedford Hills, New York.

“The Street upgrades helped investors see potential opportunities here.”

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI gained 53.92 points, or 0.75 percent, to 7,223.98. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX climbed 5.81 points, or 0.77 percent, to 756.55. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC added 5.40 points, or 0.38 percent, to 1,431.50.

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The Dow’s rise marked its highest close since February 25.

But for the year so far, the Dow is still down nearly 18 percent.

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For the week, the Dow rose 9 percent, the S&P 500 climbed 10.7 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 10.6 percent. The gains for the blue-chip Dow average marked only its fourth weekly advance since the end of October 2008.

But the boost from Citigroup faded as investors booked profits from the recent run-up in bank shares. The KBW bank index .BKX ended Friday's session down 1.4 percent.

Citigroup added 6.6 percent to $1.78. JPMorgan Chase & Co JPM.N shares shot up 2.4 percent to $23.75.

Biopharmaceutical companies led the Nasdaq higher, including Gilead Sciences GILD.O, up 2.3 percent at $45.43, and Teva Pharmaceuticals TEVA.O, up 2.5 percent at $45.39.

The Amex Pharmaceutical index .DRG rose 3.2 percent.

Trading was active on the New York Stock Exchange, with about 1.61 billion shares changing hands, above last year’s estimated daily average of 1.49 billion, while on Nasdaq, about 2.08 billion shares traded, below last year’s daily average of 2.28 billion.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a ratio of about 2 to 1, while on the Nasdaq, about five stocks rose for every four that fell.

Editing by Jan Paschal.