General Electric Co. and other industrial companies pushed stocks higher after another choppy session Tuesday, the second day of gains in a row.
It was the first back-to-back gain since the last week of August and only the third time the market has closed higher this month. On the five days the market closed lower in September, the Dow Jones industrial average lost between 100 and 303 points.
The Dow rose 44.73 points, or 0.4 percent, to close at 11,105.85. The Dow moved between small gains and losses for much of the day, then turned higher in the last half-hour.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 10.60, or 0.9 percent, to 1,172.87.
Trading was quiet compared with the many wild swings the market has had since early August. The Dow traded in a range of just 153 points, the narrowest since July 26. The average daily range during August was twice as big, 337 points. The last time the Dow traded in a larger range was November 2008, at the peak of the financial crisis.
Investors have been struggling with uncertainty over the European debt crisis and questions over which way the U.S. economy is going, said Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist at Schaeffer's Investment Research. That fear of the unknown has made markets especially volatile. Traders seem to be hanging on every piece of news or rumor out of Europe.
"It's a difficult environment for a long-term investor," Detrick said. "Any news can take you significantly higher or lower. There's just so much volatility."
European markets rose broadly Tuesday. Major French banks soared after BNP Paribas denied that it had trouble borrowing dollars from other banks and investors in short-term credit markets.
Italy's finance minister also confirmed that officials had met with China's sovereign wealth fund about buying Italian bonds. A report that China may buy Italian government bonds helped U.S. stock indexes eke out slight gains Monday. All of the gains came in a sudden burst of buying in the last 15 minutes of trading.
Detrick says the uncertainty has started to drive retail investors out of stocks. Americans pulled $36 billion out of U.S. stock funds in August, according to preliminary data from the Investment Company Institute. That's second only to the $47 billion withdrawn from U.S. stock funds at the height of the financial crisis in October 2008.
The Nasdaq composite gained 37.06, or 1.5 percent, to 2,532.15. Apple rose 1 percent Morgan Stanley said the company was more likely than ever to reward investors with a dividend or through buying back its stock.
GE rose the most of the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones industrial average, gaining 2.6 percent to $15.41.
Cummins Inc., an engine maker, topped all 500 companies in the S&P 500 index, leaping 6 percent to $92.20. The company's executives told analysts that rising gas prices and tighter emissions standards have increased demand for its fuel-efficient engines.
Best Buy Co. plunged 7.6 percent to $23.06, the biggest loss of any S&P 500 stock, after the electronic retailer reported a fall in quarterly profit. Sales in stores open a year or longer dropped 2.8 percent.
A weak reading of business sentiment kept the market's gains in check. An index of small business conditions from the National Federation of Independent Business dropped to a 13-month low in August. The NFIB said companies surveyed had weaker expectations for sales and a bleaker view of the overall economy.
The Dow and S&P 500 have lost 4 percent this month amid worries that Europe's debt crisis could knock the U.S. into another recession. The U.S. economy is already slowing, and unemployment remains high at 9.1 percent.