DANIEL WAGNERIt's only been a day, but November on Wall Street is already looking a lot better than October. Strong economic data and corporate news converged Thursday to give U.S. stocks their best day since mid-September. Positive signs about the job market and higher auto and retail sales reports pushed stock futures up before the market opened. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 100 points the first half hour of trading. At 10, two more strong reports came out and pushed the Dow up as much as 177 points. It fell back some, but held a steady gain for the rest of the day. The Dow closed up 136.16 points, or 1 percent, at 13,232.62. It was the best day since Sept. 13. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 15.43 points, or 1.1 percent, to 1,427.59. The Nasdaq composite index added 42.83, or 1.4 percent, to 3,020.06. All three indexes fell in October, their first monthly losses since May. The 10 a.m. surge came after the Institute for Supply Management said factories are seeing more orders and increased production. The index has shown growth for the first two months of this quarter, an encouraging sign about the health of corporate America. Before that, manufacturing had decreased for three straight months. The Conference Board said Americans' confidence in the economy surged last month to the highest level in nearly five years. Many were encouraged by an improving job market, the group said. Traders watch manufacturing and consumer confidence because factories and consumers are crucial players in the economic recovery. Manufacturing lifted America out of recession, and the resurgent car industry has supported the economy during recent periods of weakness. Consumers, meanwhile, account for about 70 percent of economic activity. If they're not confident enough to spend, no one else has the buying power to take up the slack.
Manufacturing growth tends to signal higher corporate earnings, said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at ING Investment Management. U.S. companies are midway through reporting their third-quarter earnings, which have been relatively weak. If factories keep boosting their output, Cote said, earnings are more likely to bounce back this quarter."What you want to see is advancing corporate profits, broad manufacturing growth and strong consumer spending," Cote said. Cote said those factors set the tone for the market. Before trading began, the government said applications for unemployment benefits fell 9,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 363,000, a level consistent with modest hiring. Separately, payroll provider ADP said businesses added 158,000 jobs in October, more than economists had expected. Another major piece of economic news comes out at 8:30 a.m. Friday, the Labor Department's October jobs report. That report will be watched closely by traders to see how well the U.S. economy is recovering. If the number is especially good or bad, it also could influence the outcome of next week's presidential election. It was the second day of trading after Superstorm Sandy ravaged New York and forced markets to close on Monday and Tuesday. Companies that had postponed earnings announcements rushed to release their results. Thursday's upswing started with strong sales results from retailers and automakers. Chrysler had its best October in five years, with sales rising 10 percent, despite the three-day disruption caused by the storm. Exxon Mobil beat the financial expectations of analysts surveyed by FactSet, but reported lower production of oil and gas. Its stock rose 43 cents to $91.60. Kellogg Co.'s net income edged up in the third quarter as its acquisition of Pringles chips earlier this year paid off. Kellogg leapt $1.18, or 2.3 percent, to $53.50. Pfizer said its third-quarter profit fell 14 percent on plunging sales, mainly due to new competition from generic forms of Lipitor, long the world's top-selling drug. Pfizer fell 32 cents to $24.55. ___ Daniel Wagner can be reached at www.twitter.com/wagnerreports.