U.S. stocks had a big January and they’re starting February strong, too.
Stocks rose more than 1 percent in afternoon trading on the first day of February. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 136 points, its biggest gain since Jan. 3. Wednesday’s gains followed the stock market’s best January in 15 years.
Wednesday’s gains were pushed by strong manufacturing data and positive signals from Greece.
U.S. factories boosted output in January by the most in seven months, according to the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index. And the Commerce Department said construction spending rose 1.5 percent in December for the fifth consecutive monthly gain.
“This is a market that is hungry for good news, and when it gets it, it responds very positively,” said Alan Gayle, senior investment strategist for RidgeWorth Investments.
The Dow was up 1.1 percent to 12,769. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 14 points, or 1.1 percent, to 1,327. The Nasdaq composite rose 1.2 percent to 2,847.
Also Wednesday, Ford and Chrysler reported U.S. sales growth for January while General Motors Co. said its sales fell 6 percent. Ford Motor Co. said sales rose 7 percent on strong demand for small cars and SUVs. Chrysler’s January sales in the U.S. jumped 44 percent.
GM stock rose 1.5 percent. Ford stock fell 0.6 percent. Chrysler, which is now privately held and majority owned by Italy’s Fiat SpA, also said it earned $183 million last year, its first annual profit since 1997.
In other corporate news:
— Amazon.com Inc. fell 9 percent after its quarterly net income fell and revenue growth was slower than Wall Street had expected.
— Whirlpool rose 17 percent after higher appliance prices boosted its quarterly profit, and it said it expects shipments to increase as much as 3 percent in North America this year.
— Health insurer Aetna Inc. rose 3.4 percent after reporting a 73 percent jump in fourth-quarter profit on smaller expenses and low usage of health care.
Monthly hiring figures from private payroll agency ADP were so-so. ADP said private-sector employment rose by 170,000 from December to January. That was 10,000 fewer jobs than expected by analysts surveyed by FactSet. ADP also said November-to-December job growth was smaller than it previously thought — 292,000 instead of the initially reported 325,000.
The positive manufacturing news in the U.S. followed strong manufacturing data for China and Europe.
Stocks were also helped by a lack of unsettling news from Europe. Greece and the IMF said on Wednesday that negotiations for important debt deals will conclude within days, raising hopes that it can avoid a disastrous default in the spring.
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 1.9 percent at 5,791 while Germany’s DAX rose 2.4 percent to 6,617. The CAC-40 in France was 2.1 percent higher at 3,367.
Earlier in Asia, stock markets lacked the same momentum seen in Europe.
Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 edged up less than 0.1 percent to close at 8,809.79 but Hong Kong’s Hang Seng ended down 0.3 percent to 20,333.37. Mainland China’s main index in Shanghai also fell 1.2 percent to 2,268.08.
The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes rose 0.03 percentage points to 1.836. The euro rose slightly to 1.32 against the dollar.
Oil prices were flat after reports showed that energy demand remains weak in the U.S. Benchmark crude slipped 8 cents to $98.40 per barrel in New York. Brent crude rose $1.02 to $112 a barrel in London.