US STOCKS-Dow hits 17-month high on energy, financials

* February Producer Price Index falls more than expected

* Massey Energy’s stock jumps after unveiling acquisition

* Dow up 0.5 pct, S&P up 0.6 pct; Nasdaq up 0.5 pct
* For up-to-the-minute market news, click [STXNEWS/US]
(Adds Nike earnings after the bell)

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK, March 17 (BestGrowthStock) – U.S. stocks (Read more about the stock market today. ) gained on
Wednesday, pushing the Dow to a 17-month high, after a benign
February inflation reading supported the Federal Reserve’s
renewed pledge of low interest rates.

The market reacted positively to a drop in the February
Producer Price Index, further supporting the near-zero
interest rates that have propelled the rally in equities. For
details, see [ID:nN17150095]

On Tuesday, the S&P 500 rose above the 1,150 level that
analysts had targeted as a critical resistance point, which
once surpassed, could push the market higher.

However, volume remained light before a key options
expiration on Thursday and Friday, when four different types
of options and futures contracts expire in a convergence known
as “quadruple witching.”

“A lot of guys, if they haven’t done anything by now are
just going to sit tight,” said Alan Valdes, director of
trading operations for Kabrik Trading in New York.

“The market does not look like it wants to come in,
though.”

The seven-session winning streak for the blue-chip Dow is
the longest since an eight-day run in August 2009, when it
rose 4.9 percent. In the last seven sessions, the Dow has
gained 1.7 percent, but volume has been lackluster.

Investors expect the S&P 500 to rise 10 percent during
2010, according to a quarterly Reuters poll published on
Wednesday. [ID:nLDE62G1AQ].

The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI: ) gained 47.69
points, or 0.45 percent, to end at 10,733.67. The Standard &
Poor’s 500 Index (.SPX: ) rose 6.75 points, or 0.58 percent, to
1,166.21. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC: ) advanced 11.08
points, or 0.47 percent, to 2,389.09.

On Tuesday, the Fed left benchmark rates unchanged near
zero and renewed its pledge to hold them “exceptionally low”
for an “extended period.” [ID:nN16245361]

NIKE JUMPS LATE

After the closing bell, Nike (NKE.N: ) shares advanced 3.4
percent to $73.29 after the largest global sporting gear maker
posted a net profit that beat analysts’ expectations.
[ID:nN17163859]

During Wednesday’s regular session, the stock of coal
miner Massey Energy Co (MEE.N: ) advanced 5.8 percent to $53.15
a day after it announced the acquisition of privately held
Cumberland Resources Corp. Massey Energy led gains in the S&P
energy index (.GSPE: ), which rose 1.1 percent. [ID:nN17160620]

Hartford Financial Services Group Inc (HIG.N: ) gained 4.8
percent to $28.58, a day after the company announced a plan to
repay the U.S. Treasury. Discover Financial Services (DFS.N: )
also said it would repay government bailout funds.But
Discover’s shares slipped 0.4 percent to $15.24.
[ID:nSGE62F0H8] and [ID:nSGE62D01I]

The S&P financial sector index (.GSPF: ) gained 1.1
percent.

About 8.64 billion shares traded on the New York Stock
Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, below last
year’s estimated daily average of 9.65 billion.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by
a ratio of about 7 to 3. On the Nasdaq, more than three stocks
rose for every two that fell.

Stock Market

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)

US STOCKS-Dow hits 17-month high on energy, financials