updated 8/6/2008 8:47:09 AM ET 2008-08-06T12:47:09

An already soaring Wall Street extended its advance Tuesday after the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged and assuaged some of the market’s fears about the economy. The Dow Jones industrial average shot up more than 330 points, and all the major indexes had gains approaching 3 percent.

Major Market Indices

The market was already enjoying a big rally before the Fed meeting, as investors responded to a report that services sector activity fell less than expected last month and to another drop in oil prices that took crude as low as $118 a barrel .

But the Fed gave stocks a huge push higher in the last hours of trading. In a statement accompanying its widely expected rate decision, the Fed reported that “economic activity expanded in the second quarter, partly reflecting growth in consumer spending and exports.” That assessment was welcome news to a market that has feared the economy was falling into recession because of weak consumer spending.

The Fed did have some darker news, stating that “inflation has been high, spurred by the earlier increases in the prices of energy and some other commodities.” But it also said it expected inflation to moderate later in the year.

“The wording is a little strong over inflation, but there’s really no real change in policy,” said Brian Gendreau, investment strategist for ING Investment Management. “I think they are trying to buy time to allow the economy to recover, and so that the financials can slowly repair.”

Ryan Larson, senior equity trader at Voyageur Asset Management, said he believes the central bank will keep rates on hold until the early part of 2009. He said of Fed officials, “they seem more concerned about growth for the rest of this year, and I’d say right now they appear to be dovish for the short term.”

The oil market also helped soothe some of Wall Street’s worries — crude fell as low as $118 a barrel before settling at $119.17, down $2.24 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil has now fallen $28 from its July 11 high of $147.27 on widening expectations that the slumping U.S. economy will keep curbing consumer demand for gasoline and other petroleum products.

Stocks had plunged in June and early July as oil reached new heights; the fear on Wall Street was that higher prices for fuel would curtail consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy. With oil falling, and the Fed citing economic growth in its statement Tuesday, investors were allowing themselves to again feel a little more optimistic after a year of financial crises and soaring commodities costs that have pummeled stocks.

The Dow rose 331.62, or 2.94 percent, to 11,615.77. It was up about 225 points shortly before the Fed’s 2:15 p.m. EDT announcement.

Broader indexes also rose sharply. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 35.87, or 2.87 percent, to 1,284.88, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 64.27, or 2.81 percent, to 2,349.83.

It was the Dow and S&P 500’s biggest one-day gain since April 1, when the indexes kicked off the second quarter with a huge rally. This was also the Nasdaq’s biggest point and percentage rise since mid-July.

Treasury bond prices fell after the Fed released its decision. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its prices, rose to 4.03 percent from 3.97 percent late Monday.

The dollar traded mostly higher against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

Early in the session, shares rose sharply after the Institute for Supply Management, the trade group of corporate purchasing executives, said its services sector index rose to 49.5 from 48.2 in June. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial/IFR predicted it would rise to 49.0.

Any reading below 50 signals contraction. The report is based on a survey of the institute’s members and covers such indicators as new orders, employment, inventories, prices and exports and imports.

The notion that the sector might be in better shape than many investors feared gave Wall Street reason for optimism.

Earnings reports continued to stream in. Procter & Gamble Co., maker of Tide detergent and Gillette razors, said its fiscal fourth-quarter profit jumped 33 percent, boosted by price increases, overseas sales and tax benefits. Shares rose $2.09, or 3.2 percent, to $67.91.

D.R. Horton Inc., the nation’s largest homebuilder, posted a narrower fiscal third-quarter loss as charges to write down the value of property declined. Shares fell 5 cents to $11.17.

Advancing issues led decliners by a 3 to 1 basis on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.32 billion shares.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 16.90, or 2.40 percent, at 721.04.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 0.15 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 2.52 percent, Germany’s DAX index rose 2.66 percent, and France’s CAC-40 rose 2.47 percent.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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