NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks rose on Friday, capping their best monthly advance since November as data showed the economy grew a tad better than expected in the fourth quarter.
On a day marked by light volume as Wall Street was buried in a snowstorm, the falling dollar also boosted the shares of exporters, who benefit from a weaker greenback.
“The dollar has declined somewhat and, in general, when the dollar has been declining, that’s positive for equities,” said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois.
Also buoying stocks was data showing the U.S. economy grew slightly more than initially thought in the fourth quarter. But a surprisingly sharp drop in existing home sales in January and weak consumer sentiment in February underscored the uneven nature of the economic recovery.
“There was a lot of economic data this morning, most of it worse than expected,” Jankovskis said.
Financials and industrials led the way up, with Dow component and diversified manufacturer 3M (MMM.N) gaining 0.5 percent to $80.15. JP Morgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), another Dow component and one of the biggest U.S. banks, rose 3.3 percent to $41.97.
Healthcare stocks also ranked among the day’s winners, with Cigna (CI.N) adding 1.2 percent to $34.26. A seven-hour healthcare summit on Thursday did little to budge Republican lawmakers on industry reform.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI edged up 4.23 points, or 0.04 percent, to end at 10,325.26. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX added 1.55 points, or 0.14 percent, to 1,104.49. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC gained 4.04 points, or 0.18 percent, to 2,238.26.
The Dow and the S&P 500 saw their best monthly gains since November, while the Nasdaq locked in its best advance since December. For February, the Dow rose 2.6 percent, while the S&P 500 gained 2.9 percent and the Nasdaq climbed 4.2 percent.
Even so, all three major stock indexes were down for the week, following two weeks of gains. The Dow slipped 0.7 percent, while the S&P 500 declined 0.4 percent and the Nasdaq shed 0.3 percent.
A snowstorm that began on Thursday and forced closures of schools and businesses across the Northeast kept a number of traders home, leading to light volume on Friday.
“Volumes are trading as if it’s a holiday weekend. Volumes are remarkably light,” said Tim Smalls, head of U.S. stock trading at brokerage firm Execution LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
In its second reading, the Commerce Department said gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 5.9 percent, up from the 5.7 percent annual pace estimated last month.
On the downside, American International Group Inc (AIG.N) slid 10 percent to $24.77 after it reported a quarterly loss of $8.9 billion, hurt by an increase in its loss reserves and its efforts to repay loans from the U.S. government.
About 7.9 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, well below last year’s estimated daily average of 9.65 billion.
Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a ratio of 3 to 2, while on the Nasdaq, about seven stocks fell for every six that rose.
Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Jan Paschal