Wall Street pulls off a rare four-day winning streak

(Reuters) - Wall Street ended higher on Friday after employment data allayed investors’ concerns about a sluggish economy without bolstering fears of an imminent interest rate hike.

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

It was the first time since October that the S&P 500 has enjoyed a four-session winning streak. And for the first time since early January, the Dow Jones industrial average rose above the 17,000 mark while the S&P 500 ended a fraction below 2,000, levels that some traders see as psychologically important.

The gains followed a report that nonfarm payrolls increased by 242,000 jobs last month. However, lower wages and hours kept a lid on inflation, a key factor as the Federal Reserve weighs when to next raise U.S. interest rates.

“This number shows the economy is strong and the Fed’s got time. It doesn’t have to run off the sidelines and get involved in raising rates,” said John Brady, managing director at R.J. O’Brien & Associates in Chicago.

Traders still see the odds overwhelmingly against a rate hike at the Fed’s meeting on March 15-16, although some see potential for an increase in June.

Mostly steady gains in recent weeks have left the S&P 500 down 2 percent in 2016 after its worst January since 2009.

“Expectations went too far on a recession expectation. That’s why the market has rallied in the past two weeks. It’s pricing out a chance of a recession,” said Jim Paulsen, chief investment officer at Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 0.37 percent, to end at 17,006.77 points. The S&P 500 .SPX gained 0.33 percent to 1,999.99, closing above its 100-day moving average for the first time this year.

The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 0.2 percent to 4,717.02.

For the week, the Dow rose 2.2 percent, the S&P added 2.7 percent and the Nasdaq increased 2.8 percent.

On Friday, seven of the 10 S&P sectors rose, led by a 1.18-percent rise in the materials sector. .SPLRCM

Apple AAPL.O rose 1.49 percent, the strongest positive influence on the S&P 500.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise HPE.N jumped 13.53 percent after reporting better-than-expected results.

H & R Block HRB.N fell 15.62 percent after the tax preparer reported a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss.

Carmike Cinemas CKEC.O jumped 16.49 percent after AMC Entertainment AMC.N said it would buy the theater chain for $1.1 billion, including debt. AMC rose 5.14 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,970 to 1,064. On the Nasdaq, 1,678 issues rose and 1,140 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed 17 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 34 new highs and 29 lows.

Volume hit 10.3 billion shares, above the daily average of 8.7 billion in the past 20 sessions.

Additional reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by James Dalgleish and Nick Zieminski