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Stocks Finish Strong, Boosted by Health Care, Financials

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stocks surged Monday after retail sales for September exceeded expectations and Citigroup (C - Get Report) delivered above-consensus earnings.

An agreement by Japan's Softbank to acquire a majority stake in Sprint Nextel (S) for $20.1 billion aided sentiment as well, continuing the recent spate of deal-making in the wireless communications space.

Monday's other economic data was largely inconsequential to the trading action. A read on manufacturing activity in New York state in October showed less improvement than anticipated while business inventories ticked up nominally in August.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose more than 95 points, or 0.72%, to finish at 13,424, just below the session high of 13,438.

The blue-chip index lost 2.1% last week, its worst weekly performance since early June. It's now fallen in three of the past four weeks but is still sitting up 9.88% so far in 2012 as of Monday's close.

Winners were well ahead of losers within the Dow, 25 to 5. The biggest percentage gainers were Bank of America (BAC), Home Depot (HD), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Merck (MRK), Pfizer (PFE), and Walt-Mart Stores (WMT).

Blue-chip decliners included American Express (AXP), AT&T (T), Coca-Cola (KO), and Verizon (VZ).

The S&P 500 gained nearly 12 points, or 0.81%, to close at 1440, while the Nasdaq jumped more than 20 points, or 0.66%, to settle at 3064.

The strongest sectors in the broad markets were health care, financials, capital goods, consumer cyclicals, and technology; every sector finished in the green.

Volume totaled 3.47 billion on the New York Stock Exchange and 1.56 billion on the Nasdaq. Winners outnumbered losers by a roughly 2-to-1 ratio on both exchanges.

The biggest boost for stocks came after the Commerce Department said retail sales for September rose 1.1%; economists were expecting an increase of 0.8%, compared with a 0.9% increase in August, according to Reuters.

Capital Economics said sales are likely enjoying a boost from the release of the iPhone 5 by Apple (AAPL - Get Report) last month but still found good portent in the report.

"The strong rise in retail sales in September was probably flattered by a gain in food prices (triggered by the recent drought) and the release of Apple's iPhone 5," the firm said. "Nonetheless, it now seems likely that third-quarter annualized GDP growth was closer to 2.0% than our previous estimate of 1.5%."
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