Wall St gets boost from banking stocks

US stocks ended solidly higher yesterday after European debt fears eased and sparked a broad advance, led by banks and commodity-related shares.

Investors expect further flows into equities on speculation the economy will strengthen. About seven stocks rose for every three that fell on the New York Stock Exchange.

Sectors typically helped by rising inflation, including agricultural and energy, were strong. Seed company Monsanto rose 3.3 per cent to $74.92 while Exxon Mobil gained 1.2 per cent to $76.58.

Banks were led by JPMorgan Chase & Co, which rose 2.5 per cent to $44.71 after its chief executive said the bank could increase its dividend once the Federal Reserve gives its approval.

Eric Marshall, director of research at Hodges Capital Management in Dallas, Texas, said that money leaving the bond market “is slowly coming back into equities. This is really about the first time in three years we've seen outflows out of bond funds.”

A healthy bond auction in Portugal drove investors into riskier assets. Investors were hopeful Eurozone finance ministers would beef up the European Union’s rescue fund.

“Europe has kept people from becoming more bullish than they would be otherwise, and the demand in the auction sets a positive tone going forward,” said Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Wealth Management in Philadelphia.

The overseas auction fed risk appetite and contributed to a drop in US Treasuries and municipal bonds.

Agricultural stocks rallied after a US government report said US stockpiles of corn and soybeans would be drawn down to surprisingly low levels, lifting food prices and agricultural shares.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 83.48 points, or 0.72 per cent, at 11,755.36. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was up 11.47 points, or 0.90 per cent, at 1,285.95. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 20.50 points, or 0.75 per cent, at 2,737.33.

JPMorgan is expected to report its quarterly results on Friday. Intel, another Dow component, is scheduled to report after the market closes today.

The S&P is almost nine per cent higher since the start of December, in part on bets that earnings would be strong.

While early results have suggested that optimism was justified, some analysts say it may be hard for equities to rise much further given recent gains.