Updated from 4:12 p.m. EDTStocks in New York locked in a third consecutive day of gains Thursday, with the indices moving 3% to 4% higher, amid a mix of merger and economic news. Adding to the day's buzz, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's testified to the Senate budget committee, and the bane of the investment community, Ponzi scheme perpetrator Bernie Madoff, pleaded guilty to 11 felony charges. Led by General Motors ( GM), General Electric ( GE), financials and pharma, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 239.66, or 3.46%, to 7170.06, and the S&P 500 climbed 29.38 points, or 4.1%, to 750.74. The Nasdaq tacked on 54.46 points, or 4%, to 1426.10. If stocks were to rally 20% off of recent lows, it would still only take us back to a level that was formerly the support for those indices for several months, says Richard Sparks, senior equities analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research. "It would seem very significant, but in the context of a bear market, it's no more than a bounce -- it would be the fourth 20%-plus rally since October if it were to occur," says Sparks. "We're either at the beginning of a standard bear market bounce, or we've got people who really are betting that things are going to be a lot better in six to nine months." GE rose 12.7% to $9.57, despite Standard & Poor's having cut its rating. Investors seemed pleased, or perhaps relieved, that the cut and short-term outlook -- deemed stable -- were not as severe as expected.