Updated from 4:11 p.m. EDTStocks marched higher Wednesday, as investors turned their attention back to the economy and away from regulatory investigations of corporate America. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 116 points, or 1.3%, at 9039, while the Nasdaq climbed 31 points, or 1.9%, to 1635. The S&P 500 advanced almost 15 points, or 1.5%, to 986. Stocks rose steadily from the open and held onto their gains in the afternoon as the Dow stayed around the 9000 mark, helped by Disney ( DIS). The Nasdaq was pushed higher by Oracle ( ORCL), whose shares are hovering around their 52-week high. "This is the start of a trend of good information. Whether it will be perfect? No, I don't expect it to be, but at least markets are doing what they're supposed to do: discounting fundamentals," said Christopher Schwartz, chief investment officer at Lindner Funds. "The Dow at 9000 shows buying sentiment is out there. But a breather is inevitable, so we'll see some sellers coming in." Markets applauded the Institute for Supply Management's nonmanufacturing index. The reading came in at 54.5 in May, up from 50.7 in April and higher than economists' forecasts, which called for a reading of 52. The new orders index rose to 54.7 from 50.6 in April, and the prices paid measure fell to 49.6 from 56.7 in the prior month. "Members' general comments on business in May continue to be mixed but contain tinges of optimism," the ISM said in its report. A revised reading on productivity also gave investors reason to cheer. First-quarter productivity rose at a 1.9% annual rate, more than the 1.6% gain that was initially reported for the period and almost three times faster than the previous quarter. Meanwhile, mortgage loan applications hit a new record high of 1856.7 for the week ending May 30. "Substantial evidence of economic activity is still missing, such as companies hiring and spending, but the better-than-expected numbers in the ISM are reassuring," said John Davidson, president and chief executive officer at PartnerRe Asset Management. Treasuries were slightly higher, with the yield on the 10-year note falling to 3.29%. More than 1.1 billion shares changed hands at the New York Stock Exchange, with gainers ahead of decliners by a 3-to-2 margin. Trading volume was 1.8 billion shares at the Nasdaq, where advancers outpaced decliners by a margin of 2-to-1. Disney shares rose $1.05, or 5.3%, to $20.81 after Chief Executive Michael Eisner said Tuesday the company was optimistic about advance bookings for the summer. Two brokerage firms offered mixed reactions to his comment. While Fulcrum Global Partners views the stock as expensive and lacking in growth prospects, Credit Suisse First Boston sees upside profit potential. Oracle advanced 54 cents, or 4.15%, to $13.56, above its old 52-week high of $13.42 with more than 40 million shares traded. The stock was one of the most active at the Nasdaq. Still, some corporate news continued to disappoint. Car and truck maker DaimlerChrysler ( DCX) said its U.S. unit will lose more than $1 billion in the current quarter because of aggressive promotions, which cut into sales. Smith Barney, J.P. Morgan and Credit Suisse First Boston all cut their recommendations on the stock after the warning, which sent shares down 2.6%, or 83 cents, to $30.82. General Motors' ( GM) chief executive also made some disconcerting remarks. CEO Rick Wagoner said late Tuesday that the automaker is dissatisfied with its sales and market share, but will continue offering no-interest financing. Shares of GM fell 0.45%, or 16 cents, to $35.79. Ford ( F) closed down 1.4%, or 15 cents, at $10.54. Morgan Stanley cut its second-quarter estimates for both General Motors and Ford.
Shares of Martha Stewart Living ( MSO) gained 5%, or 47 cents, to $9.99 after falling 15% Tuesday. Federal prosecutors charged company founder Martha Stewart and her stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic, with nine felony counts Wednesday and said a conviction would mean jail time. The beleaguered airline sector took some solace in a report from Goldman Sachs saying May figures showed a modest improvement in reducing the industry's losses. Shares of American Airlines' parent AMR ( AMR) gained 22.5%, or $1.58, to $8.60, while Continental Airlines ( CAL) shares rose 7.3%, or 95 cents, to $14.06. In other news, Palm ( PALM) said it will buy rival Handspring ( HAND) in an all-stock deal. Palm will also spin off its PalmSource unit. Palm rose 19%, or $2.29, to $14.44, and Handspring climbed 15.3%, or 17 cents, to $1.28. Programmable-chip maker Altera ( ALTR) raised its second-quarter earnings estimates to the high end of the company's previous range, and it predicts revenue will rise up to 4%. Shares added 2.9%, or 53 cents, to $19.08. Elsewhere, Comverse Technology ( CMVT) said its first-quarter net loss narrowed despite a decline in sales due to weak corporate spending. The communications software maker's results beat analysts' estimates. Shares rose 5.2%, or 79 cents, to $15.97. Crude oil prices fell to $30 a barrel in New York. The dollar was higher against the yen and euro. Overseas markets were mixed, with London's FTSE 100 up 0.3% at 4126, and Germany's Xetra DAX up 1.8% at 3080. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei closed 0.1% lower at 8557, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.3% to 9662. Stocks ended higher Tuesday, with the Dow up 25 points, or 0.3%, at 8922. The Nasdaq advanced 12 points, or 0.8%, to 1603, and the S&P 500 rose almost 5 points, or 0.5%, to 971.