updated 5/17/2005 9:02:47 AM ET 2005-05-17T13:02:47

Investors, encouraged by falling crude oil prices, bid stocks sharply higher Monday in a broad-based rally as fears of a slowdown in consumer spending eased.

Major Market Indices

Though oil futures settled narrowly lower, a sharp drop in crude prices earlier in the day built on last week’s losses , giving investors hope that gasoline prices would fall in time for the summer driving season and consumer spending would remain strong. After falling below $48 per barrel earlier in the session, a barrel of light crude settled at $48.61, down 6 cents on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The good news on oil helped investors shrug off the latest reading of the Empire State Index, a measurement of New York’s manufacturing sector and a barometer for the rest of the nation. The index dropped sharply this month, showing contraction in the sector when economists had expected strong manufacturing growth instead.

“I would argue the stock market is probably about 5 percent undervalued, but you need a catalyst to get it going, to give investors confidence to buy stocks,” said Hugh Johnson, chairman and chief investment officer of Johnson Illington Advisors. “That catalyst is clearly the decline in the price of oil. That’s causing investors to jump on values they see in this market.”

Also boosting the market Monday was a big increase in profits at Lowe’s, which lifted shares of the home improvement retailer 5.6 percent. Rival Home Depot’s shares rose 3 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed Monday up 112.17 points, or 1.1 percent, while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was up 11.64 points, or 1 percent. The technology-rich Nasdaq composite index rallied 17.65 points, or 0.9 percent.

The drop in oil and other commodity prices sent investors looking for bargains in other sectors, including the long-dormant technology sector. And that has helped the Nasdaq, which has lagged behind the other major indexes, to gain ground.

“We’re definitely seeing strength in the Nasdaq, in particular, and that’s a healthy sign for the market,” said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at Spencer Clarke LLC. “Of the times we’ve rallied over the past few years, a rally with the Nasdaq is far stronger than one where it’s lagging.”

Merger and acquisition activity remained strong as corporate America continued to express its optimism about the economy by pursuing deals. United Parcel Service Inc. added $1.03 to $73.18 after it announced an agreement to acquire smaller rival Overnite Corp. for $1.25 billion in cash — a 46 percent premium on Overnite’s closing price Friday. Shares of Overnight surged 43.8 percent, or $12.94, to $42.52.

The Wall Street Journal said embattled insurer American International Group Inc. plans to dismiss at least six other senior executives in connection with the company’s accounting scandal, which forced the departure of former Chairman Maurice “Hank” Greenberg. AIG added 76 cents to $52.81 on the news.

Home improvement retailer Lowe’s Cos. jumped 5.6 percent, or $2.94, to $55.80 after the company reported a 31 percent increase in quarterly profits, but added that its bottom line was hurt due to poor weather around the nation that kept do-it-yourselfers indoors. The company missed Wall Street’s profit expectations by 2 cents per share.

The stock market’s April slump hurt trading volume at E-Trade Financial Corp., which said volumes fell 8.9 percent from March and 27.4 percent from April 2004. The online brokerage and financial company said it was sticking to its 2005 profit forecasts, however. E-Trade fell 9 cents to $12.01.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc. dropped 4 cents to $4.13 after the company said the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department are investigating how the company accounted for employee stock options. The company will have to restate earnings for the past three years, and possibly into 2001, but 2005 earnings will not be affected.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 0.92 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 closed down 0.05 percent, France’s CAC-40 dropped 0.17 percent for the session, and Germany’s DAX index lost 0.32 percent.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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