NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks jumped and the Nasdaq hit an 18-month closing high on Friday as U.S. employers cut fewer jobs than expected last month and consumers showed signs of shedding their penny-pinching ways.
Apple Inc (AAPL.O) surged to an all-time high after the company said its much hyped iPad computer would arrive in U.S. stores in April, easing concerns about delays.
The broader market got a lift from smaller-than-expected job losses, after U.S. data showed nonfarm payrolls shed 36,000 jobs in February compared with expectations in a Reuters poll for a loss of 50,000. Investors had been concerned severe winter weather that affected swaths of the country would cause a larger drop in payrolls.
“We had been bracing for bad news, and what we got was much better than expected, which suggests we could potentially rebound further in March and April,” said Marc Pado, market strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald & Co in San Francisco.
“This was the number people were fearing, and that we got through it like this is very positive for the long run.”
News that consumer credit rose $4.96 billion in January, its first increase in a year and the largest for any month since mid-2008, according to Federal Reserve data, boosted financial stocks. American Express (AXP.N) rose 3.4 percent to $40.20 and ranked among the Dow industrials’ top advancers.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI gained 122.06 points, or 1.17 percent, to end at 10,566.20. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX added 15.73 points, or 1.40 percent, to 1,138.70. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC rose 34.04 points, or 1.48 percent, to 2,326.35.
The Dow and the S&P 500 closed at their highest levels in six weeks. The S&P 500 is now off only 1 percent from a 15-month closing high set on Jan 19, having clawed back from a drop of more than 8 percent through February8. All three indexes are now positive for the year.
For the week the Dow rose 2.3 percent, the Nasdaq added 3.9 percent and the S&P 500 climbed 3.1 percent.
Apple boosted the Nasdaq as the stock shot up nearly 4 percent to an all-time closing high at $218.95 after the company said the first iPad computers will be in U.S. stores in early April.
There was broad participation across most market sectors, with cyclicals among the leaders as commodity prices rose along with investor optimism. But volume remained low in a sign of residual investor caution.
“The volume is really quite light, so the true interest that’s waiting on the sidelines, although we’re seeing an upside bias, is waiting for (political) progress in Washington,” said Jason Weisberg, a trader at Seaport Securities in New York.
U.S. crude oil futures prices ended at their highest level in almost eight weeks, at $81.50 a barrel. An S&P energy index .GSPE shot up 1.8 percent, with energy among the S&P’s best-performing sectors.
Diversified manufacturer 3M Co (MMM.N) gained 1.8 percent to $82.44, and ranked among the Dow’s top gainers after the jobs data showed the manufacturing sector added 1,000 jobs in February.
Declining shares included Solarfun Power Holdings SOLF.O, which fell 9.1 percent to $6.84 after the company warned of a steeper fall in average selling prices in its first quarter.
Transatlantic Holdings Inc TRH.N shares fell 3.4 percent to $51.96 after American International Group Inc (AIG.N) said it would sell its 13.8 percent stake in the company. AIG’s stock gained 5.1 percent to $28.08.
About 8 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq, below last year’s estimated daily average of 9.65 billion.
Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on NYSE by a ratio of nearly 11 to 2, while on Nasdaq, about 11 stocks rose for every three that fell.
Reporting by Edward Krudy; Additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Jan Paschal