U.S. stocks mounted a modest rally on Monday, helping investors recover some of the ground lost after a rough finish last week.
Investors were bracing for another round of discouraging earnings and a third consecutive loss for the stock market. But the market pushed higher from the get-go Monday, receiving a boost from solid earnings from Citigroup and a strong pickup in retail sales last month.
Among the stocks that rose sharply were WebMD, Edwards Lifesciences and Goodrich Petroleum.
Stocks rose after the Commerce Department reported that retail sales increased 1.1 percent in March, the best gain since September 2012. The government also revised February's figure to a 0.7 percent gain, more than double its previous estimate.
Sales improved particularly in the second half of March, as unusually cold weather that gripped much of the country this winter began to ease, motivating more people to go out and spend money.
"As we look forward, the consumer may continue to (spend) and may continue to drive the economy overall," said J.J. Kinahan, chief strategist with TD Ameritrade.
Citigroup helped stoke the rally. The bank reported a 2.5 percent jump in first-quarter profit as both income and revenue beat Wall Street's expectations. That was a welcome surprise following an earnings miss last week by JPMorgan Chase. A positive earnings outlook from health information portal WebMd also helped.
The gains faded somewhat late in the afternoon. The Nasdaq composite slipped briefly into negative territory, harking back to last week's sharp drop in Internet and biotechnology stocks.
A wave of buying in the last half-hour of trading pushed the Nasdaq and other indexes to solid gains for the day. It was the market's first finish in the green since April 9.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 14.92 points, or 0.8 percent, to close at 1,830.61. All ten industry sectors in the S&P 500 increased, led by energy stocks, which rose 1.3 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average added 146.49 points, or 0.9 percent, to 16,173.24. The Nasdaq composite rose 22.96 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,022.69.
While they recovered some of their losses from last week, all three indexes remain down for the month and the year.
Monday's rally was a positive start for the market in a week that promises to provide investors with plenty of insight into the health of Corporate America and the U.S. consumer.
"For the rest of the week I would actually expect a little bit of volatility," said Kinahan. "You have some big names coming out this week that will really set the trend of not only the U.S. but what's going on worldwide."
Investors will hear from several members of the Federal Reserve, including Fed Chair Janet Yellen.
Among the major companies due to report earnings this week are Johnson & Johnson, Google, General Electric and UnitedHealth.
Analysts still expect first-quarter earnings for companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 to decline 1.6 percent from a year earlier, according to FactSet, a financial data provider. If profits do fall, it would be only the second quarterly drop in three years.
"The expectations have been set so low that there are upside surprises out there," said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading at Schwab Center for Financial Research. "If they are big enough stocks and they're a big component of an index then they may well push that index up shortly. But the question is will people just buy them and hang on to them or will they take profits?"
Among the stocks making news Monday:
- Medical device maker Edwards Lifesciences rose the most of any stock in the S&P 500 index. A federal judge on Friday reaffirmed an earlier ruling that Medtronic's CoreValve system infringes on Edwards' patent for a replacement heart valve. Edwards soared $8.03, or 11 percent, to $81. Medtronic fell $1.12, or 1.9 percent, to $58.08.
- Intuitive Surgical was the S&P 500 index's biggest decliner. It shed $14.63, or 3.3 percent, to $425.
- Citigroup surged $1.99, or 4.4 percent, to $47.67.
- Health website operator WebMD jumped $6.20, or 16.5 percent, to $43.87.
Bond prices fell slightly. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note inched up to 2.65 percent from 2.63 percent late Friday.