NEW YORK – Widespread gains in commodity prices lifted energy and materials companies as part of a broad stock market rally Wednesday after three days of declines. Stocks built on morning gains after the Federal Reserve released minutes that showed that officials agreed that the economy is improving, which could lead to higher demand for raw materials like steel and fertilizer.
The Fed's bond-buying program has kept interest rates low and sent commodities and stock prices higher overall since late August. The U.S. stock market has gained nearly 25 percent since the central bank signaled that it would begin the asset-purchase plan. Commodity prices had fallen over the last two weeks after months of gains on concerns about the impact of high energy prices on the economy.
Oil gained nearly 4 percent to move back above $100 a barrel, due in part to a Dept. of Energy report that inventories of crude oil did not rise last week as expected. Energy stocks like Chevron Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp. rose nearly 2 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average added 80.60 points, or 0.6 percent, to close at 12,560.18. The S&P index rose 11.70, or 0.9 percent, to 1,340.68. The Nasdaq composite gained 31.79, or 1.1 percent, to 2,815.
Commodity prices halted their slide after floods damaged wheat, corn and soybean fields, with traders anticipating a supply shortage would lead to higher prices. Materials companies in the S&P 500 rose 2.1 percent, led by a nearly 5 percent gain in CF Industries Holdings. The company sells fertilizer.
Stock indexes inched up slowly in morning trading as investors tried to make sense of mixed earnings reports. Reports from Dell Inc. and Staples Inc. sent contrasting messages about how much corporations are spending. Dell's strong results suggested that companies were spending more on technology, but Staples' report suggested businesses were reluctant to lay out cash for basic needs like office supplies.
"Businesses are spending in the technology sector to improve productivity," said Kim Caughey, equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group. "But in the business-supply area, they might not buy quite as many paper clips."
Dell jumped nearly 6 percent after the computer maker reported late Tuesday that its income nearly tripled on lower costs and better profit margins. Strong sales of servers, storage devices and computers to businesses also contributed to its results. Another tech company, Analog Devices Inc., rose 6 percent after the chip-maker said its profit jumped 44 percent.
Staples plunged 15 percent after the office-supply company reported that sales were weaker than investors were expecting. The company also lowered its full-year earnings forecast. Target Corp. fell 1.6 percent after the company also reported weak sales. Target's CEO Gregg Steinhafel said shoppers are "cautious" about spending.
The release of the Fed minutes sent bond prices lower because some of the central bank's members said it might need to start easing interest rates higher this year to guard against inflation. The higher price drove the yield of the 10-year Treasury note up to 3.17 percent from 3.12 percent late Tuesday. Bond prices rise when their yields fall.
Four stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume came to 3.5 billion shares.