Wall Street rallies as battered investors eye support

(Reuters) - Wall Street posted solid gains on Thursday as higher oil prices reduced fears that banks could be hit by debt defaults and investors saw opportunities after weeks of volatility.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The second uptick in two days for stocks was helped by a 3-percent jump in oil, which has been a major influence on markets this year as investors view weak energy demand as a sign of sluggish global growth.

The S&P 500 .SPX has recovered 6 percent in the past nine sessions but remains down almost 5 percent in 2016 as oil hovers near decade lows.

For the first time this year, the S&P 500 exceeded its 50-day moving average, a move that some investors believe is a sign of improving sentiment.

“I have a lot of people calling me and saying ‘Hey, I’ve got $50,000 in the bank earning zero percent. Is it time to put it to work?’,” said Jake Dollarhide, chief executive of Longbow Asset Management in Tulsa.

“People are saying ‘Let’s take a nibble right here.’”

All of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher, led by the financial sector .SPSY, up 1.38 percent.

The financial sector has fallen 12 percent this year, easily the worst performer on the S&P, as fears loom about a wave of defaults from energy companies.

Also helping sentiment, orders for U.S. durable goods rose more than expected in January as demand picked up across the board, offering a ray of hope for the downtrodden manufacturing sector.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI jumped 1.29 percent to end at 16,697.29 points and the S&P 500 .SPX rallied 1.13 percent to 1,951.7, its highest close since early January.

The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 0.87 percent to 4,582.21.

Shares of Inc CRM.N surged 11.03 percent. The online customer management software maker reported higher-than-expected revenue and raised its full-year forecast. The stock gave the biggest boost to the S&P 500.

Gun maker Sturm Ruger & Co RGR.N jumped 7.8 percent after reporting quarterly results that handily beat Wall Street's expectations. [L2N1641LN]

Tech leader Microsoft MSFT.O rose 1.44 percent, fueling much of the Nasdaq's gains.

After the bell, food company Kraft Heinz Co KHC.O rose 3 percent following its fourth-quarter report. Weight Watchers International Inc WTW.N shed 19 percent after posting a steep drop in fourth-quarter net revenue.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the New York Stock Exchange by 2,265 to 784. On the Nasdaq, 1,684 issues rose and 1,074 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed 35 new 52-week highs and two new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 33 new highs and 48 lows.

About 7.3 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 9 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak in New York and Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Zieminski