Markets soar on debt deal hopes

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) just after the opening bell,...

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) just after the opening bell, October 10, 2013. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Barani Krishnan, Reuters

, Last Updated: 6:23 PM ET


Major U.S. stock indexes posted their strongest rally in more than nine months on Thursday after signs of progress in negotiations to raise the U.S. debt limit, at least temporarily.

The market rally left the S&P 500 less than 2% away from its record closing high set three weeks ago, with traders now focused on an earnings season that begins in earnest on Friday with results from top banks JPMorgan and Wells Fargo.

The main Canadian stock index racked up its best day in three months on Thursday as investors were encouraged by signs U.S. lawmakers were making progress in negotiations to raise the debt ceiling.

U.S. politicians are locked in a budget stalemate that has resulted in a partial government shutdown now in its tenth day. The impasse is bringing lawmakers closer to a separate mid-October deadline to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a potential default that would roil world markets.

Republicans in the House of Representatives on Thursday put forward a plan that would delay that deadline by roughly six weeks, giving the government, and markets, some breathing room.

"The debt issue was a very good excuse to stay on the sidelines, but now that there's some hope that the situation will be resolved, we're seeing people get back into the market in a hurry," said Elvis Picardo, strategist and vice president of research at Global Securities in Vancouver.

"You're now down to the final quarter of the year, so there's a ton of money that needs to be put to work."

The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index jumped 1.3%, or 164.08 points, to 12,894.41. It was the biggest increase since early July, though it lagged the equities rally south of the border where the three major indexes climbed more than 2%.

Canadian Natural Resources was one of the biggest boosts of the day after the oil explorer and producer reported stronger-than-expected cash flow. The stock climbed 4.5% at C$33.46.

Shares of BlackBerry rose 0.6% to C$8.49 after co-founder Mike Lazaridis increased his stake and was considering buying the entire company.

Three banks were among the top five performers, with Royal Bank of Canada up 1.9% at C$67.69, Toronto-Dominion Bank gaining 1.3% at C$92.30, and Bank of Nova Scotia adding 1.3% to C$59.72.

House Republican leaders acted to break a logjam in negotiations by proposing a bill to raise the federal government's debt limit without attachments. The move was a significant shift for Republicans, who had tried to use the must-pass legislation to extract concessions from Democrats on spending and gutting the new healthcare law known as Obamacare.

Their proposal, which they planned to present to President Barack Obama at the White House, would postpone the threat of a U.S. default from Oct. 17 until the middle or end of November.

For the first time since the government shutdown began 10 days ago, senior lawmakers from both parties predicted they would be able to resolve their differences in a way that would allow both sides to claim victory.

"What this is, is opening the door to discussion and negotiation when before we had two sides just finger pointing," said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois.

"We don't know if in six weeks we'll be in the same place, but at least this opens the possibility" of a lasting deal," he said.

The CBOE Volatility index, often used to measure the level of investor anxiety, plunged 15.9% to 16.48, near the level it was in late September, prior to the U.S. government shutdown.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 323.09 points or 2.18%, to 15,126.07, the S&P 500 gained 36.16 points or 2.18%, to 1,692.56 and the Nasdaq Composite added 82.971 points or 2.26%, to 3,760.747.

The S&P posted its largest daily%age gain since Jan. 2, when yet another market pullback was reversed after politicians reached an agreement regarding the so-called fiscal cliff.

In one of the few economic indicators that continues to be published amid the federal government partial shutdown, data showed the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless aid touched a six-month high last week. A computer-related backlog of claims was processed and the partial government shutdown hit some non-federal workers.

Boeing Co shares led%age gains on the blue-chip Dow industrials, up 3.9% to $118.90 after the plane maker said it will restructure its commercial airplane strategy and marketing functions. The announcement came days after the company lost a $9.5 billion order in Japan, previously its most secure market.

This year's high-flying tech stocks rebounded after several days of declines. Facebook was up 4.9% to $49.05, Best Buy gained 7.5% and Netflix rose 5.4%. Among the year's best performers on the S&P 500, the stocks were the top drags in the market's recent decline.

After the closing bell, shares of Safeway Inc rose 6.6% to $33.65 after the grocery store operator said it plans to leave the Chicago market by early next year and posted sharply lower earnings for the third quarter.

Citrix Systems Inc shares were off 11.9% to $58.75 after the cloud-computing software maker estimated quarterly results below analysts' expectations because businesses had delayed contracts.

About 98% of the S&P 500 components posted gains. On the NYSE, more than six issues rose for every one that fell and on Nasdaq winners outnumbered losers by a ratio of 5.3 to 1.