Dow enjoys biggest gain in 4 years

Dow enjoys biggest gain in 4 years
The New York Stock Exchange on Aug. 25. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

This time, there was no retreat.

Buyers finally poured into the U.S. stock market and stayed there Wednesday, sending prices soaring for their best overall one-day gain in nearly four years and snapping a week of punishing declines.

Unlike a day earlier when a strong rally suddenly evaporated, the market finished near its highs of the session as investors gobbled up suddenly cheaper shares.

"The market's action today was encouraging," said Alan Gayle, chief investment strategist at RidgeWorth Investments.

The Dow Jones industrial average surged 619.07 points, or nearly 4%, to 16,285.51, its best advance on a percentage basis since late November 2011. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 and the Nasdaq composite index shot up 3.9% and 4.2%, respectively.

It was the third-largest point gain in history for the blue-chip Dow, and it followed six down days, including five consecutive sessions of triple-digit declines. But on a percentage basis the gain didn't rank among the top 20 historically because the average has kept climbing over the decades.

Analysts said stocks could still see rough times ahead because fears about a slowdown in China's economy — the main culprit in the market's recent plunge — continue to weigh on shares.

"I'm still looking at what might be a catalyst to find the bottom" of the market's recent rout, Gayle said.

For one day, though, investors largely ignored the Asian giant's woes and took encouragement from signs of continued growth in the U.S. economy.

The Commerce Department said orders for durable goods, such as cars and appliances, rose a better-than-expected 2% in July.

"That suggested the U.S. economy remains on firm upward footing and that the manufacturing sector may be digging its way out of the malaise it endured in the first half of the year," Gayle said.


The gains in durable-goods orders followed reports this week of increases in U.S. consumer confidence and new home sales.

Such data could help give Wednesday's rally added legs or at least help stabilize the market as recent heavy losses are erased.

Many investors also are weighing whether the market's nasty fall provided an appealing buy signal.

"I've had more people during this correction that are asking, 'What should I buy?' rather than 'What should I sell?'" said Sean Lynch, co-head of global equity strategy at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

Despite Wednesday's gains — the S&P was up 72.90 points to 1,940.51, and the Nasdaq rose 191.04 points to 4,697.54 — the market remained sharply lower. The Dow remains down 6.1% in the last week.

The Dow and the Nasdaq also are still down 11% and 10%, respectively, from the record highs they reached this year. That means they're still in what Wall Street calls a correction, a loss of 10% or more from recent highs. The S&P is down 8.9% from its recent peak.

Also weighing on the market is uncertainty about whether Federal Reserve officials will raise the central bank's benchmark interest rate, currently near zero, at its meeting next month.

The Fed had indicated a desire to start raising rates next month, but China and the stock market's turmoil have raised doubts about whether that will happen.

William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, told reporters Wednesday that "from my perspective at this moment," raising rates now "seems less compelling to me than it was a few weeks ago."

He quickly noted, however, that raising rates "could become more compelling by the time of the meeting as we get additional information on how the U.S. economy is performing." Still, his comments were a fresh signal that a rate cut might not be coming soon.

U.S. economic reports this week "have actually been pretty positive," Dudley noted. "Consumer confidence showed a good increase, new-home sales were solid, the durable-goods orders report was quite strong. But you also have to look at all the other things that potentially could affect the economic outlook."

That includes China and the markets' volatility; "international developments and financial-market developments do have relevance because they can impinge and affect the economic outlook," Dudley said.

He also said the stock market "has to move a lot — and stay there — to have implications for the U.S. economy. What we're seeing is not a U.S. problem. This is very different from the financial crisis."

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Stocks opened sharply higher Wednesday, just as they had in the prior session, with the Dow soaring 443 points in the first hour.

Prices then pulled back a bit before rallying again, especially in the final hour, which spawned more buying, analysts said.

"People were worried that selling pressure would come in the last hour again and, when it didn't, we started to see more money flow into the market," Lynch said.

Among the big gainers on the day were drugmaker Merck & Co., up 6.4%; Apple Inc., up 5.7%; and Microsoft Corp., up 5.5%.

China's benchmark index, the Shanghai composite, fell 1.3% to 2,927.29 Wednesday after a volatile day of trading. The index dropped to its lowest point since December 2014.

Chinese stocks have fallen about 16% over the last week, rattling markets worldwide amid investors' fears about the leadership's ability to prop up the country's ailing economy.

In the credit markets, prices of 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds fell and its yield rose to 2.18% from 2.07%.

Light crude oil fell 71 cents to $38.60 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The euro fell against the dollar to $1.13 from $1.15.

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Times staff writer Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing contributed to this report.