US MARKETS booked gains yesterday as the financial sector rebounded and energy and materials stocks became the subject of renewed buying activity.<br /><br />Oil prices were a major contributor, with crude futures closing up $2.69 at $68.81 per barrel – a seven-month closing high helped by Goldman Sach’s decision to boost its target price for the commodity to $75 per barrel.<br /><br /><strong>Chevron</strong> and oil major <strong>Exxon Mobil</strong> both put in gains above 1 per cent, leading markets higher during the afternoon’s trading.<br /><br />Hopes the recent rises in the oil price are part of a longer-term trend became more embedded yesterday, with futures as far out as December 2010 seeing heavy trading volume.<br /><br />In the financial sector <strong>KeyCorp</strong>, the banking solutions group, gained almost 20 per cent after RBC Capital Markets named it a “top pick” and said its share price had been factoring in bigger risks on loan losses than are actually present.<br /><br />RBC was bullish on the entire banking sector last night, stating it believes the darker days of the financial crisis are now passed. <br /><br />US regional bank<strong> SunTrust</strong> was up 4.5 per cent as markets closed last night, while <strong>PNC Financial Services</strong> added 6.9 per cent amid the sector cheer. <strong>Fifth Third Bancorp</strong> saw its shares put in a healthy 6.6 per cent gain.<br /><br />While major markets saw mixed early trading, they were buoyed by better-than-expected unemployment benefit claims numbers – a relied-upon predictor for today’s jobless report.<br /><br />The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 74.96 points, booking a 0.9 per cent gain to 8750.24. The Nasdaq Composite index added 24.10 points to 1850.02 and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index put in a 10.70 gain, up 1.2 per cent to 942.46. The Dow has now risen in five of its last six sessions. <br /><br />In addition to the promising jobless benefits statistics out yesterday, US markets were buoyed by news productivity rose 1.6 per cent in the first quarter as US firms slashed headcounts.<br /><br />The US Labor Department had reported the number of claims for jobless benefits dropped after hitting a new record in January.