Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s encouraging words about the economy and a jump in existing home sales sent US stock surging to their highest level this year and brightened hopes that an economic recovery is imminent.  Treasuries tumbled and corresponding yields rose sharply higher as investors turned away from the safety of government debt.  Gains were broad based with 29 of the 30 Dow Jones industrial average components recording gains.  Crude oil prices climbed on the back of economic recovery hopes, hitting a 10-month high of $73.89. 

US stock futures point to a moderately higher open on Monday.  Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 34, or 0.4%, to 9,523. Standard & Poor’s 500 index futures rose 3.30, or 0.3%, to 1,028.50, while Nasdaq 100 index futures rose 2.00, or 0.1%, to 1,637.50.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 156 points, or 1.7%, closing above 9,500 for the first time since November 4.  The S&P 500 index added 19 points, or 1.9%, closing at the highest point since October 6.  The tech-heavy NASDAQ composite index added 31.68 points, or 1.59%, to 2,020.90, its highest close since October 1.  On the New York Stock Exchange about four stocks rose for every one that fell.

Speaking at an annual Fed conference, Bernanke noted that “After contracting sharply over the past year, economic activity appears to be leveling out, both in the US and abroad,” adding prospects for a return to growth in the near-term “appear good.”  However, he sounded a note of caution, warning that lending is not back to normal, and that the difficulty consumers and businesses are having obtaining loans will be a challenge.    

All ten S&P 500 industry sectors closed higher on Friday, led by gains in basic materials (+2.7%), oil and gas (+2.6%), industrials (+2.3%), and financials (+2.1%).  Year-to-date technology stocks have been the best of the lot managing gains of 40.4% and are followed closely by basic material shares (+40.1%), financials (+13.2%), industrials (+11.1%), and consumer goods (10.4%).  On the year only telecoms (-4.2%) have suffered declines.

A rise in energy stocks sent shares of Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) up 2.5% to $69.92 and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) rose 1.6% to $69.73.  Shares of healthcare companies also advanced with Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) surging 5.5% to $16.64 and Merck (NYSE:MRK) gaining 5.1% to $32.56.  Among financial issues, AIG (NYSE:AIG) jumped 35% to $32.85 after the company said it will be able to pay back the government.  Game Stop (NYSE:GME) plunged 13% after the company reported earnings that were below analysts’ expectations.    

However, notable risks remain to the fragile economy.  A Sunday Financial Times piece quoted economist Nouriel Roubini as saying there remains a “big risk” of a double-dip recession, although Roubini currently sees a “U-shaped” recovery. 

Zacks Investment Research