Wall St gains on data, Greece package

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U.S. stocks rose on Monday as data indicated the economy was on firmer footing, and details of a European financial rescue package for Greece provided a measure of relief.

The U.S. manufacturing sector grew in April at its fastest pace in almost six years, according to an industry report, while the government reported an unexpected rise in construction spending in March, marking the first advance since October.

The trends there further confirm what investors have been betting on -- the continued progress in the economy, said Alan Lancz, president of Alan B. Lancz & Associates Inc, in Toledo, Ohio.

Big manufacturers, including Boeing Co , Caterpillar Inc and 3M Co helped drive gains for the Dow index after the Institute for Supply Management reported that U.S. factory activity rose for a ninth straight month.

Over the weekend, European countries agreed to a 110 billion euro ($146.5 billion) aid package for debt-laden Greece, the biggest ever financial bailout of a country. The agreement provided relief to Wall Street investors, but in the currency market investors fretted whether Germany would secure parliamentary approval to release the money by a mid-May deadline, driving down the euro.

Sentiment was also buoyed sentiment after UAL Corp , the parent of United Airlines, said it agreed to buy Continental Airlines Inc for $3.2 billion in stock in a deal that would form the world's largest airline.

UAL shares rose 2.4 percent to $22.13, and Continental Airlines rose 1.9 percent to $22.78.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 89.63 points, or 0.81 percent, to 11,098.24. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> gained 9.09 points, or 0.77 percent, to 1,195.78. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 27.11 points, or 1.10 percent, at 2,488.30.

Data that showed consumer spending rose in March for a sixth straight month also lifted the market. Consumer spending, which accounts for about two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, has remained one of the most fragile aspects of the economy and investors are eager for signs of growth.

The Nasdaq fared better than the other two indexes, helped by a 2 percent gain in Apple Inc after the company said sales of the iPad since the device's April launch passed the 1 million milestone faster than expected. Apple shares were up at $266.30.

U.S.-listed shares of BP Plc were the second most traded stock on the New York Stock Exchange, falling 7.4 percent to $48.29. The energy giant promised to pay for the cleanup and compensation claims for a catastrophic oil spill threatening the U.S. Gulf shore and said it was working to stem the undersea leak.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett on Sunday stood by his feisty defense of a controversial mortgage transaction marketed by Goldman Sachs Group Inc that is at the center of government fraud charges against the bank. Buffet said the investment bank's behavior does not warrant public fury. [ID:nN02162966] Goldman Sachs shares rose 2.9 percent to $149.43.

(Editing by Leslie Adler)

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