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Dow Jones index back in positive territory after surge

March 17, 2016

Another surge in U.S. stocks Thursday, on the heels of a four-week rally, turned the Dow Jones industrial average positive for the year and wiped out its losses from a terrible start to 2016.

The price of gold and silver and oil jumped, boosting materials and energy companies. The dollar continued to weaken, boosting industrial companies on hopes they will be able to sell more products overseas.

The Dow Jones rose 155.73 points, or 0.9 percent, to 17,481.49. It's is now up 0.3 percent for the year, the first time it has been in the black for 2016.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 13.37 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,040.59. The S&P 500 remains down 0.2 percent for the year. A little more than a month ago, the Dow and the S&P 500 were both down 10 percent for the year.

The Nasdaq composite rose 11.01 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,774.99, but remains down close to 5 percent this year.

The price of oil also crossed a threshold, closing above $40 a barrel for the first time since early December. Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.74, or 4.5 percent, to close at $40.20 a barrel. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oils, gained $1.21, or 3 percent, to $41.54 a barrel in London. Oil prices are now higher than they were at the end of 2015, but still far lower they have been for most of the last decade.

The dollar, after years of strength, has weakened in recent days, in part because of the Federal Reserve's decision to leave rates unchanged and to slow the pace of increases. Commodities are priced in dollars around the world, so a weaker dollar makes them more affordable in foreign markets and increases demand.

"When the dollar strengthens gold tends to sell off and vice versa," said James Butterfill, head of research and investment strategy at ETF Securities. Also, he said, investors aren't sure what monetary policy makers in Europe will do, and that kind of uncertainty usually sends metals prices higher.

The price of gold jumped $35.20, or 2.9 percent, to $1,265 an ounce and silver climbed 81 cents, or 5.3 percent, to $16.03 an ounce. Copper rose 6 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $2.29 a pound. Gold is at its highest price in about a year and silver and copper are around five month highs.

Mining companies and makers of chemicals, jets, farm equipment and heavy machinery all traded higher. General Electric picked up 79 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $30.96 and Boeing gained $3.13, or 2.5 percent, to $130.70. Agribusiness giant Monsanto rose $2.21, or 2.4 percent, to $92.92.

Package delivery company FedEx rose after it reported strong holiday-season sales, helped by continued growth in online shopping. FedEx also raised its projections for the year. The stock gained $17.07, or 11.8 percent, to $161.34. That was its biggest one-day gain since 1993.

Health care stocks continued to slump as a Senate committee sharply questioned executives from Turing Pharmaceuticals, which became notorious last year when it raised the price for a decades-old anti-infection drug by 5,000 percent. Investors are fearful that it will get harder for drug companies to raise their prices and boost their profits and revenues. Endo International lost $3.88, or 11.4 percent, to $30.03 and has dropped 29 percent this week. Eli Lilly gave up $3.42, or 4.7 percent, to $69.06. The Nasdaq biotech index, which includes makers of some of the mostly costly medications, has dropped almost 6 percent this week.

SeaWorld Entertainment said it will immediately stop breeding orcas after years of controversy over keeping the whales in captivity. The move will phase the animals out of its theme parks. The stock made its biggest gain since its IPO in 2013, rising $1.60, or 9.3 percent, to $18.72.

The Labor Department reported that applications for unemployment benefits rose slightly last week, but they remain at levels consistent with a healthy job market.

Bond prices have also risen, dampening their yields. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 1.90 percent after it fell to 1.91 percent on Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.1316 from $1.1204. The dollar fell to 111.50 yen from 112.68 yen.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline picked up two cents to $1.44 a gallon and heating oil rose two cents to $1.25 a gallon. Natural gas gained seven cents, or 3.6 percent, to $1.94 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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