RPT-US STOCKS-Bank shares help keep alive year-end rally

(Repeats to additional subscribers)

* S&P closes at level not seen since before Lehman fall

* Financial stocks lead gains as M&A boosts regionals

* Walgreen jumps on earnings report

* Dow up 0.2 pct, S&P up 0.3 pct, Nasdaq up 0.2

* For up-to-the-minute market news see
(Updates to close)

By Leah Schnurr

NEW YORK, Dec 22 (BestGrowthStock) – The S&P 500 rose on Wednesday
to its highest level since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, led
by bank stocks that have leapfrogged other sectors in
December.

The banks — epicenter of the credit crisis two years ago
— led indexes higher as a December run helped keep the
market’s year-end rally afloat. The KBW Bank Index rose 1.9
percent, led by regional institutions.

“The financial sector is unique in that it has spent two
consecutive years in the performance basement,” said
Lawrence Creatura, portfolio manager at Federated Clover
Investment Advisors in Rochester, New York.

“Today financials look a little bit more investable than
they did 18 or 24 months ago because the price is right and
some risk has has been extracted.”

The S&P 500 has risen for five sessions in a row but gains
have been modest and on light volume. The benchmark’s relative
strength index points to a pullback in the near term, but for
now investors don’t seem worried.

Bank of America Corp rose 3.1 percent to $13.38 and
JPMorgan Chase & Co climbed 2.8 percent to $42.16, giving the
greatest boost to the Dow industrials.

Regional banks outpaced their larger counterparts after
recent merger activity in the sector boosted hopes for more M&A
to come. Hancock Holding Co agreed to buy Whitney Holding Corp
on the heels of last week’s takeover of Marshall & Ilsley Corp
by Bank of Montreal.

The KBW regional bank index was up 3.7 percent and is now
up 19.4 percent for the month. Whitney Holding surged 28.8
percent to $14. United Bankshares Inc jumped 4.6 percent to
$29.80 after KBW raised its price target to $28 from $23.

The Dow Jones industrial average added 26.33 points, or
0.23 percent, to 11,559.49. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index
gained 4.24 points, or 0.34 percent, to 1,258.84. The Nasdaq
Composite Index edged up 3.87 points, or 0.15 percent, at
2,671.48.

The S&P 500 climbed above 1,255.08 where the index closed
just days after Lehman filed for bankruptcy in September 2008.
For the year, the index is up 12.9 percent, including a 6.6
percent December run.

“Today it looks like an economic dawn with some scattered
clouds on the horizon, but there’s no denying things are better
today than they were then,” said Creatura. He noted the light
holiday season volume makes the milestone somewhat less
robust.

For a factbox on the performance of stock sectors since
Lehman Brothers’s collapse, see [ID:nN2289572]

Energy shares rose as crude oil futures settled 0.7
percent higher at $90.48 a barrel. Chevron Corp added 0.7
percent to $89.89.

Walgreen Co rose after the drugstore chain posted higher
profit on increased prescription sales and a slower pace of
store openings that helped control costs. Its shares rose 5.5
percent, the second-best percentage gain on the S&P 500, to
$38.85.
(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

RPT-US STOCKS-Bank shares help keep alive year-end rally