By KEN SWEET
2013-09-05 03:01 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- A jump in U.S. auto sales and other good news on the economy helped drive the stock market higher Wednesday.
Automakers rose sharply after reporting strong sales gains in August, leading the industry toward its best month in six years.
Investors were also scrutinizing President Barack Obama's effort to win support in Congress for a military strike on Syria.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 122 points, or 0.8 percent, to 14,956 as of 1:20 p.m. (1720 GMT).
The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 14 points, or 0.9 percent, to 1,653 and the Nasdaq composite rose 34 points, or 1 percent, to 3,646.
Jim Russell, a senior equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Cincinnati, said recent economic reports have drawn a brighter picture of the global economy, even as concerns over Syria have claimed much of the public's attention.
A trade group said Tuesday that U.S. factories increased production last month at the fastest pace since June 2011, propelled by a sharp rise in new orders. Separate reports out Monday showed stronger manufacturing in Europe and China.
"All of these add up to better economic growth on a global scale," Russell said.
On Wednesday, General Motors said its sales rose 15 percent last month, while Chrysler and Ford each reported 12 percent gains. Toyota posted the biggest increase as sales rose nearly 23 percent since August of last year.
GM gained $1.44, or 4 percent, to $35.58 while Ford rose 59 cents, or 4 percent, to $16.93.
Technology companies also climbed. Apple gained $11.13, or 2 percent, to $499.81 after Cantor Fitzgerald initiated coverage of the company with a "buy" rating.
The Nasdaq Stock Market said its quote dissemination system had a brief outage, from 11:35 a.m. to 11:41 a.m., but the problem was resolved and trading was not affected.
It was latest technical difficulty to hit the exchange. All trading in Nasdaq-listed stocks was halted for three hours on Aug. 22 because of a problem that was also blamed on the exchange's price quote disseminating system.
In Washington, national security aides to President Barack Obama were meeting to push for strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime in retaliation for what the administration says was a deadly sarin gas attack in that country's civil war. Obama has received the endorsement of House Speaker John Boehner as well as key Senate Republicans.
A vote on the strikes could come next week after Congress returns from its summer break.
Investors are looking ahead to Friday, when the August jobs report will be released. Economists polled by FactSet expect that the U.S. created 177,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate held steady at 7.4 percent.
Friday's jobs report is the last major piece of economic data the Federal Reserve will have to work with before the central bank decides whether or not to pull back on its massive bond-buying program. That program has kept interest rates abnormally low. While most investors believe the Fed will begin to pull back, the question has become when and how much.
"Even if the August employment figures were weaker than expected, we think the odds would likely still favor a September (pullback), just of a smaller magnitude," economists with the investment bank RBS wrote in a note to clients.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged up to 2.88 percent from 2.86 percent late Tuesday. Crude oil fell $1.10, or 1 percent, to $107.43 a barrel while Gold fell $24, or 2 percent, to $1,387 an ounce.
Among other stocks making big moves:
-- Dollar General jumped $2.62, or 5 percent, to $56.49 after the discount store chain reported profits that narrowly beat Wall Street analysts' estimates. In contrast to some of its competitors, Dollar General said sales at stores open more than a year climbed.
-- Francesca's Holdings, which operates the francesca's line of retail stores, plunged after reporting results that fell short of Wall Street's estimates. The company cut its forecast for full-year earnings, citing poor customer traffic. Its stock sank $6.14, or 25 percent, to $17.88.
-- Ciena surged $2.87, or 14 percent, to $23.54. The developer of high-speed networking technology reported adjusted earnings that were far higher than Wall Street analysts expected, a result of higher revenue and lower costs.