Markets lifted by bullish US economy

US stocks rose yesterday on strong earnings and signs of a strengthening economy, even as a surge in the price of oil highlighted the potential for increased political risk in the Middle East to upset markets.

Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman said on Monday that President Hosni Mubarak has asked him to start a dialogue with all political forces, while Egypt's armed forces pledged not to fire on peaceful demonstrators.

The latest news calmed markets after stocks suffered their biggest fall in nearly six months on Friday. The improved sentiment helped the Market Vectors Egypt Index rise 7.9 per cent, indicating investors' appetite for risk in the region had recovered somewhat.

"It's creating a great opportunity to step up and increase exposure to emerging markets and other areas of the international markets," said Robert Lutts, president and chief investment officer at Cabot Money Management in Salem, Massachusetts. "I'm optimistic that this will be resolved and blow over."

Relief that the turmoil appeared not to be escalating allowed investors to focus on data showing stronger US personal spending and regional manufacturing, while better-than-expected earnings from Exxon Mobil sent the company's shares up more than 2 per cent.

Exxon Mobil gained 2.1 per cent to $80.68 after the world's largest publicly traded oil company reported a 53 per cent increase in quarterly profit. Its shares closed up at $80.68 after earlier in the day hitting a two-year high of $80.82.

M&A activity also helped lift stocks. Massey Energy rose 9.8 per cent to $62.86 after Alpha Natural Resources agreed to a $7.1bn deal to create the second largest US coal miner by market value.

On the economic front, the Commerce Department said US consumer spending rose in December for a sixth straight month, while a separate report showed business activity in the US Midwest grew more than expected in January.

In other M&A action, CNOOC will pay $1.3bn in its second shale deal with America’s Chesapeake Energy, the latest move by China's top offshore oil producer in its aggressive drive for overseas acquisitions.

Chesapeake advanced 8 per cent to $29.53.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 68.23 points, or 0.58 per cent, to 11,891.93. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 9.78 points, or 0.77 per cent, to 1,286.12. The Nasdaq Composite Index added 13.19 points, or 0.49 per cent, to 2,700.08.