U.S. stocks climbed Thursday as energy shares bounced with oil prices, while news Pfizer would buy Hospira in a massive deal further boosted the market.
The S&P energy index jumped 1.5 percent as oil prices rebounded sharply from the previous session. U.S. crude rose 4.2 percent to settle at $50.48 following increased violence in producer Libya and an expected boost in oil demand from China's central bank easing.
Some eurozone concerns eased as well. Greece proposed a bridging program until the end of May to allow time for debt talks, vowing to do everything in its power to avoid default. On Wednesday, the European Central Bank abruptly said it would stop accepting Greek bonds in return for funds.
%VIRTUAL-pullquote-The market's trying to get its hands around what's going on in Greece.%"The market's trying to get its hands around what's going on in Greece. There was an expectation it might blow up. Now, certainly in the short term, it looks like we won't be seeing any fireworks," said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial in Waltham, Massachusetts.
The day's move put the S&P 500 back into positive territory for the year after days of volatile price action, largely driven by moves in oil.
Pfizer (PFE) was among the biggest boosts to the S&P 500 after it said it would buy Hospira (HSP) for about $15 billion to boost its portfolio of generic injectable drugs and copies of biotech medicines. Hospira shares rocketed 35.2 percent to $87.64 as the S&P 500's biggest percentage gainer. Pfizer gained 2.9 percent $32.99.
The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 211.86 points, or 1.2 percent, to 17,884.88, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 21.01 points, or 1.03 percent, to 2,062.52 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 48.39 points, or 1.03 percent, to 4,765.10.
Good News on Jobs
Adding to the upbeat tone, weekly jobless claims rose less than expected last week. The report comes on the heels of a private payrolls report that fell short of expectations Wednesday and ahead of a monthly employment report Friday.
Other data showed the U.S. trade deficit in December widened to its highest since 2012, which could damp down the fourth-quarter growth estimate, and nonfarm productivity fell more than expected in the fourth quarter.
Michael Kors (KORS) shares fell 2.3 percent to $69.77 after the luxury accessories retailer posted third-quarter results and forecast a lower-than-expected profit for the current quarter.
About 6.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 8.1 billion average for the last five sessions, according to BATS Global Markets.
NYSE advancing issues outnumbered declining ones 2,349 to 749, for a 3.14-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 2,028 issues rose and 718 fell, for a 2.82-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The S&P 500 was posting 43 new 52-week highs and 2 lows; the Nasdaq composite was recording 90 new highs and 36 lows.
What to watch Friday:
The Labor Department releases employment data for January at 8:30 a.m.
The Federal Reserve releases consumer credit data for December at 3 p.m.
These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
Berea's net price is lower than the price tag for many two-year public colleges. The liberal arts college, founded by abolitionists, provides every student with the equivalent of a full-tuition scholarship; the school only accepts students with demonstrated financial need. All students work 10 to 15 hours a week, which they put toward books, food and other expenses.
BYU, which is led and supported by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is a good deal even before financial aid is factored in. The sticker price for non-Mormons is $18,322 (for Mormons, it's $13,322). The average net price after need-based aid is $13,532 for non-Mormons. More than half the classes have fewer than 20 students.
If you manage to get admitted -- and only 7 of applicants do -- Yale will make sure you can afford to attend. The average net price for Yale students is about $16,500 a year, thanks to the school's generous financial aid program. Better yet, Yale's financial aid package doesn't include student loans, so students who borrow leave with only about $13,000, on average, in student debt, versus more than an average of $31,200 for borrowers at private, nonprofit institutions.
A total of 60 of students who attend this elite liberal arts school receive need-based financial aid, in no-loan awards. Small classes (the average class size is 16), an eight-to-one student-faculty ratio, and access to more than 300 cultural events a year keep students intellectually engaged; 98 percent of freshmen return for sophomore year. Students who need a break from the books can ramble around Amherst's 1,000-acre campus, which includes a 500-acre wildlife sanctuary.
This Catholic college, which is surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest, has no departments, majors or textbooks; instead, students participate in discussion-style classes that focus on the Great Books. And 80 percent of students receive need-based financial aid, and the average grant covers 49 percent of the sticker price.
The nation's oldest institution of higher education is surprisingly affordable for the students who meet its high standards (only 6 percent of applicants are accepted). More than 60 percent of students receive need-based aid, in no-loan financial aid packages. And that definition of need is generous: Families with income well into the six figures are eligible. Harvard's generosity keeps average debt at graduation to $12,560, among the lowest of the schools in our combined rankings.
With lush grounds and a stunning view of the San Gabriel Mountains, Pomona boasts one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. But students don't linger to admire the scenery. And 93 percent graduate within four years (the highest rate of all 300 schools in our rankings), sparing students and families the cost of an extra year or more. Like several of our other best values, Pomona doesn't include loans in its financial aid awards, which keeps the average debt among undergraduates who borrow to $13,441. The California sunshine is free.
Washington and Lee is a prime example of why you need to look beyond the sticker price when searching for best values. W&L's average need-based grant of $39,850 cuts the school's sticker price by nearly 70 percent. But even if you don't qualify for need-based aid, you may get a break on the sticker price: Of the W&L students without demonstrated need, 13 percent receive merit aid, at an average award of about $35,000.
This liberal arts school, established in 1793, provides financial aid to 51 percent of students. Families with incomes of up to $230,400 are eligible for financial aid. Only 29 percent of students borrow, and the average debt upon graduation is $12,474. Williams' three academic divisions -- languages and the arts, social sciences, and science and math -- offer 25 departments and 36 majors. The student-faculty ratio is seven to one, and about 39 percent of students graduate with dual majors.
Only 6 percent of applicants get into this prestigious research university, which ties with Harvard for competitiveness. The Stanford community includes 21 Nobel laureates, making the five-to-one student-faculty ratio (the lowest on our list of under-$20,000 schools) even more valuable. Like Pomona, Stanford's Golden State campus is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful in the U.S.