Stocks close higher as oil steadies

Dow gains 212 points

Encouraging economic news and a rare rise in oil prices helped give the stock market its first gain in the new year Wednesday.

Major indexes started climbing from the opening bell, following a report from ADP, the payroll processor, which showed that businesses hired more workers last month. Companies added 241,000 workers in December, an increase from the previous month.

The increase offered more evidence that the U.S. economy is on steady ground and gave investors another reason to jump back into the market after five straight days of losses, said Jeff Kravetz, regional investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.

All three major U.S. indexes climbed more than 1 percent. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 23.29 points to close at 2,025.90.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 212.88 points to 17,584.52, and the Nasdaq composite gained 57.73 points to 4,650.47.

Before Wednesday, falling oil prices and concerns about the global economy had knocked the S&P 500 down 2.7 percent, its worst start to a year since 2008.

The recent turbulence is likely just a pause in the stock market's steady run, said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors.

“It's perfectly normal market activity,” Arone said. “Things tend not to go up or down in a straight line.”

Major markets in Europe also ended higher for the first time this week. Germany's DAX closed with a gain of 0.5 percent and France's CAC-40 rose 0.7 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 advanced 0.8 percent.

Consumer prices in Europe fell in December for the first time since 2009. The 0.2 percent drop was mainly the result of falling oil prices, something that could help consumers immediately. But falling prices also increase pressure on the European Central Bank to provide more stimulus for the region's flagging economy. Many analysts expect the bank to announce plans to buy government bonds later this month. After the report on prices came out, the euro slipped to $1.1833 from $1.1890.

Markets barely moved following the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's December policy meeting. Fed officials discussed various risks to the economy, but concluded that the recent big drop in oil prices was likely to end up boosting growth.

The price of oil stabilized near a six-year low. U.S. crude oil rose 72 cents to close at $48.65 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The gain, which followed news of a decline in U.S. crude inventories, as only the second in nine trading days.

Crude has fallen by more than half since June as supplies rose. Lower energy costs are a boon to consumers and businesses, but some see the plunge as a worrying sign of weakness in the global economy.

Despite turbulent trading over recent weeks, Kravetz expects 2015 to be another solid year for the stock market.

“We're telling our clients not to get caught up in this short-term volatility. Look at the fundamentals: the job market, corporate balance sheets, economic growth. They're very good.”

Among other companies in the news on Wednesday, J.C. Penney soared $1.33, or 20 percent, to $7.89 after the beleaguered retail store posted solid sales late Tuesday. For the nine-week holiday shopping season, the company reported sales growth of nearly 4 percent over the same period in 2013.

Eli Lilly predicted higher revenue and earnings this year as it tries to recover from the loss of patents protecting key drugs. But the forecast fell short of Wall Street's expectations. The company's stock fell 49 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $69.23.

In the bond market, prices for U.S. government Treasurys fell, nudging yields up. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged up to 1.96 percent from 1.94 percent the day before.

In the commodity markets, precious and industrial metals dipped. Gold fell $8.70 to $1,210.70 an ounce, silver sank nine cents to $15.54 an ounce and copper lost less than a penny to $2.76 a pound.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose 5 cents to close at $51.15 in London.

In other futures trading on the NYMEX:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 1.6 cents to close at $1.338 a gallon.

— Heating oil fell 2.7 cents to close at $1.699 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 6.7 cents to close at $2.871 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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