Stocks rise, clinching S&P 500’s best month since 2015

Wall Street got its mojo back in January after finishing 2018 with its worst December since 1931.

Stocks finished higher Thursday, closing out the month with the best gain for the broad-based S&P 500 index since October 2015.

The S&P 500 index rose 23 points, or 0.9 percent, to 2,704, on Thursday, up 7.9 percent in January.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 15 points, or 0.1 percent, to 24,999, up 7.2 percent during the month.

The Nasdaq composite climbed 98 points, or 1.4 percent, to 7,281, up 9.7 percent in January.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 0.8 percent, to 1,499, up 11.2 percent for the month.

A series of strong corporate earnings helped power the month-long rally, which followed a dismal December that nearly brought the benchmark index into a bear market, meaning a decline of 20 percent from a recent peak.

Facebook helped drive the market higher Thursday after reporting solid user metrics. General Electric also climbed. And online retail giant reported earnings after the close of regular trading that topped Wall Street’s forecasts.

Home builders also surged following new data showing sales of new U.S. homes soared in November.

Strong results and outlooks from big U.S. companies seem to be calming some of the fears investors had that a recession might be looming.

“Overall, we’re still encouraged that this earning season is comforting to people,” said Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist at LPL Financial.

Communications, health care and consumer goods and services stocks powered Thursday’s market gain as investors remained focused on corporate earnings, which have been mixed.

Concerns over the ongoing U.S.-China trade conflict, uncertainty over the path of interest rates and signs of a weakening global economy helped knock the market into a steep slump in December.

While concerns over trade and a slowing economy remain, corporate earnings have put investors in a buying mood. And this week, the Federal Reserve sent a strong signal to the markets that it is in no hurry to raise interest rates in coming months, another confidence boost for the market.

Trade talks between the U.S. and China entered a second day Thursday. President Donald Trump voiced optimism before meeting with representatives from China, but noted there would be “no final deal” until he sits down with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Among the biggest gainers in January were Xerox and Celgene, which climbed 42.8 percent and 38 percent, respectively. General Electric also turned in a big January gain: 34.2 percent.

Boeing Co. which builds the 787 Dreamliner in North Charleston, notched the biggest gain in the 30-company Dow index, rising 19.6 percent for the month.

U.S. stocks rallied to cap their biggest monthly gain in three years as better-than-expected corporate earnings and the Federal Reserve's dovish turn lifted investor sentiment.

"The market is back to being focused on earnings," Kate Warne, an investment strategist at Edward Jones, said in an interview at Bloomberg's New York headquarters. "Much of the news has been reassuring, and that's supported rising stocks."

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