Wall Street surged higher in a volatile session Monday, offsetting Friday losses but showing more fractiousness than conviction in an advance that lifted the Dow Jones industrials 286 points.
Investors tried to balance their concerns about the availability of credit with hopes that today's Federal Reserve meeting will be a calming influence after two weeks of frenetic trading on Wall Street. In a day devoid of economic news and with few earnings reports, investors early in the session seemed to avoid making big bets, though stocks gained steam after midday.
Fed policymakers are widely expected to hold the nation's benchmark rate steady at 5.25 percent; as usual, the greater concern is with the Fed's economic assessment statement. This time, investors will be looking to see what the Fed says about credit.
The Dow's biggest point gain of the year follows a number of choppy sessions in which investor sentiment has vacillated between fear about lending to occasional bursts of optimism. Seven of the past 10 sessions have seen swings greater than 100 points in the Dow. The erratic activity has followed the stock market's high of July 19, when the Dow closed above 14,000 for the first time.
"I really wouldn't read too much into it," said Charles Norton, principal and portfolio manager at GNICapital, referring to Monday's rally. "You'd like to see it be led by the market leaders, not the sort of stuff bouncing off the bottom that's been beaten up," he said referring to financial stocks and regional banks.
The Dow soared 286.87, or 2.18 percent, to 13,468.78, after a 281-point drop Friday. Broader stock indicators also rebounded. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 34.61, or 2.42 percent, to 1,467.67. The Nasdaq composite index rose 36.08, or 1.44 percent, to 2,547.33.
"I think a lot of it has to do with people sort of squaring up before the Fed on the short side, covering some shorts," Norton said, referring to the market's move higher and investors who sell stocks "short," betting that they will fall. Such investors can be forced to buy stock to cover their positions if they believe the market is poised to move higher. Falling oil also gave a boost to stocks. Light, sweet crude futures tumbled $3.42 to $72.06 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Stocks have endured a volatile couple of weeks as troubles in the global credit markets - rooted in the rise of subprime loan defaults in the United States - have unfolded. Some investors are concerned that bad subprime loans, those made to borrowers with poor credit, remain on the books of some financial companies and have yet to be disclosed.
Some of the session's major corporate news related to subprime loans and credit concerns. Bear Stearns Cos. co-president and co-chief operating officer Warren Spector resigned after the collapse of two hedge funds that invested in risky mortgage-backed securities.
Spector was directly in charge of the investment bank's asset management business.