Wall Street kicked off the new month with the best March start on record: Although the volatility continued, stocks ended the week with a gain for the third straight time.
Increases in oil prices, closing above $36 a barrel, propelled upward momentum in equities, pushing the S&P 500 to a weekly gain for only the fifth time this year.
Traders saw positive economic data: The U.S. manufacturing sector showed signs of improvement, strong car sales were reported, and more jobs than expected were added over the past month.
The market was also more optimistic about China after its central bank cut the amount of cash banks are required to hold as reserves in an attempt to buoy the world's second-largest economy. The reduction of half a percentage point by The People's Bank of China was the fifth cut in a year.
For the week, the S&P 500 rose 3.5%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average increased almost 3%, and the Nasdaq jumped nearly 3.5%.
But for the year, the S&P 500 is still down 2.15%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average has decreased 2.4%, and the Nasdaq has tumbled 5.8%.
Crude oil bounced back to positive territory on Tuesday, reaching a two-month high. The commodity had a solid start to the week on high hopes of an agreement between Russia and members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries over a production freeze. Saudi Arabia voiced its support for cooperation to stabilize prices on Monday.
Mid-week, investors weighed hopes for a supply cut from Saudi Arabia against a larger-than-expected increase in U.S. inventories. The Saudi Arabian government is reportedly seeking an international loan of up to $10 billion as it struggles with lower oil prices. The reports sparked hopes that the country's lack of funds could prompt a supply cut.
An official read on crude inventories climbed at a much steeper pace than expected. Crude inventories rose by 10.4 million barrels last week, according to the Energy Information Administration, nearly three times what analysts had forecast.
"The kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) seeks to achieve stability in the oil markets and will always remain in contact with all main producers in an attempt to limit volatility and it welcomes any cooperative action," the Saudi Arabian cabinet wrote in a statement.
West Texas Intermediate crude oil rose 10.49% during the week to $36.24 a barrel, while Brent, the international price for oil, added 10.83% to $38.92.
Oil prices touched 13-year lows earlier this year on record production levels, global oversupply, and signs of weaker demand. Crude is now down 7.77% for the year.
Chesapeake Energy (CHK - Get Report) spiked over 88%, as oil prices rose and a spokesman said the company didn't expect to face criminal prosecution in the investigation that led to Tuesday's federal indictment of former CEO Aubrey McClendon, 56, who died in a car crash the next day. McClendon left Chesapeake in 2013 and was indicted on charges of conspiring to rig bids to buy oil and natural gas leases in northwest Oklahoma between 2007 and 2012.
With the quarterly reporting season drawing to a close, among the final companies to announce earnings were:
Lumber Liquidators (LL - Get Report) , which swung to a fourth-quarter loss on the back of slumping growth tied to concerns over the safety of its products. The flooring retailer reported a loss of 73 cents a share, far wider than an expected loss of 23 cents.
Autozone (AZO) , which posted a quarterly sales gain as profit jumped 8% from a year earlier. The car parts retailer reported profit of $7.43 a share, above estimates of $7.28, while revenue rose 5.3% to $2.26 billion. Sales at domestic stores climbed 3.6%.
Barclays (BCS) , which more than halved its dividend to 3 pence a share over the next two years. The British bank also announced plans to sell parts of its 62% stake in Barclays Africa with the aim of separating it in at least two years. The bank reported a far-wider loss in fiscal 2015 than a year earlier.
Dollar Tree (DLTR - Get Report) , which reported disappointing sales growth. The discount retailer more than doubled its sales to $5.27 billion, though that came in below estimates of $5.41 billion. The company expects first-quarter earnings between 75 cents and 83 cents a share, on the low-side compared with consensus of 83 cents.
Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF - Get Report) , which saw its turnaround efforts continue to bear fruit in the recent quarter. The teen apparel retailer reported surprise growth in same-store sales, its first increase in more than three years. Demand for its Hollister brand remained strong.
Costco (COST - Get Report) , a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS portfolio, which dropped 0.46% after reporting fiscal second-quarter earnings of $1.24 a share, missing Wall Street estimates of $1.28. Revenue stood at $28.17 billion, 2.6% higher than the same time last year, but short of the $28.42 Wall Street was looking for. Overhead expenses soared 6% year over year.
By the end of the week, Barnes & Noble (BKS) was up nearly 25% after missing estimates. The book retailer reported fiscal third-quarter profit of $80.3 million or $1.04 a share, up from the prior year, and revenue of $1.4 billion, down 1.8% during the quarter. The New York City-based company noted a decline in retail sales due to lower online revenue, store closings, and declining Nook sales.
H&R Block (HRB - Get Report) took a hit this week, down 17.7% after missing its 2016 third-quarter earnings estimates. The tax preparation company reported a loss of $81.7 million or 35 cents a share, worse than the loss of $35 million, or 13 cents, a share a year ago, while sales were $475 million, down 6.8%. Chief Executive Officer William Cobb said industry changes, such as aggressive tax fraud prevention, delayed tax filings, the Affordable Care Act, and the evolution of do-it-yourself tax preparation has had an effect on their business.
Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE - Get Report) jumped after beating quarterly estimates -- reporting earnings of 41 cents share, ahead of the 39 cents analysts were looking for. Revenue of $12.72 billion eclipsed forecasts of $12.68 billion. The information technology company expects net income of between $1.85 and $1.95 a share for the fiscal year. Shares increased 14.88%.
Kroger (KR - Get Report) reported fourth-quarter earnings per share of 57 cents, beating estimates of 54 cents. Revenue was $26.2 billion, missing estimates of $26.29 billion. The company added 9,000 jobs in 2015. Shares lost 6.62%.
Staples (SPLS) reported fourth-quarter adjusted earnings of 26 cents a share, 2 cents below estimates. Revenue fell 7% year over year to $5.27 billion, missing estimates of $5.4 billion. Shares rose by 1.16%.
The February jobs report, released Friday, is the final piece of economic data before the Federal Reserve's closely watched March 15-16 meeting. The central bank is likely to punt on hiking rates at the meeting given the volatility seen in global markets so far this year and worries about China's slowing economy.
The U.S. economy added 242,000 jobs in February, according to the Labor Department. Economists estimated 190,000 positions were added to payrolls last month. The unemployment rate held steady at 4.9%.
"The February employment report is likely to give the Fed confidence that the labor market remains on solid footing while inflationary pressures remain subdued," wrote economists at BNP Paribas in a note on Friday.
A separate read on the manufacturing sector in February showed activity cooling, though not as much as initially expected. Manufacturing activity in February fell to 51.3 in February, down from 52.4 in January, the U.S. Market purchasing managers index showed. However, that was slightly above an initial reading of 51.
Earlier in the week, New York Fed President William Dudley said he sees risks to the U.S. economic outlook that could delay the central bank's next rate hike. Dudley said he was "somewhat less confident" on the economic outlook, though still expects growth at 2% a year.
The central bank raised rates for the first time in nearly a decade at its December meeting.
Given the spat of volatility since the start of the year, the markets are only pricing in a 2% chance of a second rate hike in March.
"I think the labor picture is fairly stellar in the U.S., but I think global conditions might very well prevent the Federal Reserve from doing anything too soon to prevent any sort of upheaval or volatility in the markets that we've become so used to," said Brenda Kelly, head analyst at London Capital Group.