U.S. stocks rose on Thursday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the Fed may pause in its 22-month campaign of raising borrowing costs, lifting shares of interest-rate sensitive companies such as banks and utilities.
Shares of Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. climbed, offsetting a decline in shares of Exxon Mobil Corp., which reported profit that fell short of Wall Street's expectations.
Investors piled into growth stocks, which can benefit from friendlier interest-rate environments, at one point sending the Nasdaq Composite index up more than 1 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average hit a fresh six-year high.
There was definitely a bit of relief after Bernanke's comment this morning with regards to where interest rates could go. It seems a pause is likely in the near term, said Sam Rahman, at portfolio manager with Baring Asset Management in Boston.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI> was up 31.16 points, or 0.27 percent, at 11,385.65. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX> was up 6.21 points, or 0.48 percent, at 1,311.62. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC> was up 18.43 points, or 0.79 percent, at 2,352.06.
Stocks had opened lower after China's central bank raised the benchmark one-year lending rate. The action prompted concerns that slower growth in the world's most populous country could hurt U.S. companies with sales to China such as heavy equipment maker Caterpillar Inc. and airplane maker Boeing Co.
Caterpillar shares were down 1.2 percent at $75.08 and Boeing shares slipped 0.6 percent to $84.38.
Stocks climbed after Bernanke told the Joint Economic Committee of Congress that Fed policy makers could at some point pause in their credit-tightening campaign to assess the economy's outlook.
The S&P Utilities sector index .GSPU> rose 1.6 percent, imitating a sharp rise in the bond market after Bernanke's rate comment. Utilities trade much like bonds because of their high dividend yields.
Shares of American International Group Inc., the world's largest insurer by market value, followed other rate sensitive shares higher. AIG advanced 1.9 percent to $65.24 and provided the biggest lift for the Dow.
Bank of America and JPMorgan shares touched fresh 52-week highs in New York Stock Exchange trading. Bank of America's stock was up 2.9 percent at $49.09, while JPMorgan shares were up 2.5 percent at $43.71.
Stock investors have been worried the Fed would raise interest rates aggressively this year, increasing borrowing costs to a level that might harm corporate profits.
People are taking this as a signal, said Ray Rund, managing director and head of research at ShakerInvestments. In this case, it's kind of pro-growth stock. The Nasdaq has the most growth stocks, and when interest rates stabilize, or go down, people start to think of growth as being worth more.
Helping the Nasdaq were shares of cable company Comcast Corp., which jumped 6.1 percent to $30.98 on stronger-than-expected first-quarter profit. ID:nN26314764
On the downside, shares of health insurer Aetna Inc. plunged 22 percent to $36.25 as investors worried its profit margins would suffer as it pays higher prices for medical procedures while competing aggressively in pricing to win market share from rivals.
Exxon shares fell 0.7 percent to $62.66 on the NYSE.