Bernanke signals low interest rates, stocks take off

Stocks chalk up one of the biggest gains of the year after Fed chairman says economy still needs help. Dow jumps more than 100 points

Gary Cameron/Reuters
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke addresses a policy conference of the National Association for Business Economics in Alexandria, Va., March 26, 2012. After he said the US economy needs to grow more quickly if it is to bring down the unemployment rate, US stocks roared to big gains.

Stocks leapt to one of their biggest gains of the year Monday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that the economy still needs help to produce faster job growth.

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 113 points to 13,194 just after noon EDT. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 14 points to 1,411, its highest level since May 2008. The Nasdaq composite rose 39 points to 3,107.

The gain was enough to erase most of last week's 152-point less for the Dow, its worst showing this year.

At a conference in Arlington, Va., Bernanke said more job gains will probably require more robust demand from Americans and businesses. His remarks suggested the Fed will stick to its plan to keep short-term interest rates near zero.

The economy has added an average of 245,000 jobs a month since December, and unemployment has fallen almost a full percentage point since last summer. Yet Bernanke said the Fed needs to "remain cautious" in deciding its next move.

Bernanke said he does not expect the unemployment rate to keep falling at the current pace without much stronger growth. As long as inflation remains tame, analysts believe the Fed will hold interest rates down to give the economy more support.

All 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 rose. Health care companies rose the most, 1.4 percent, followed by banks, up 1.2 percent.

Lions Gate Entertainment was among the early winners on Wall Street. The stock climbed 2.5 percent after its movie "The Hunger Games" made $155 million on its opening weekend.

Stocks were mostly higher in Europe. Germany's DAX index increased 1.9 percent after a measure of business confidence in that country rose for the fifth month in a row. France's CAC-40 rose 0.6 percent and in London, the FTSE rose 0.8 percent.

The euro gained half a penny against the dollar. Gold rose $21 to $1,684 an ounce and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.28 percent from 2.23 percent late Friday.

This week investors will closely watch consumer confidence numbers due to be released Tuesday, as well as the final March numbers for consumer sentiment on Friday.

Among other stocks making moves Monday:

Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns the Venetian casino in Las Vegas, rose 2.5 percent to $58.95 after the brokerage Stifel Nicolaus raised its price target for the stock to $69 from $63.

Select Comfort Corp., which makes Sleep Number beds, climbed 3.9 percent after Keybanc reiterated its Buy rating on the stock and said shipments across the mattress industry were up in February.

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