Investors bought stocks again on the latest reassuring news about the economy. This time, it was about European banks.
European regulators, who issued the results of what are called "stress tests" on the banks, said Friday that only a handful would struggle if the continent's economy weakens. That helped send the Dow Jones industrial average up more than 100 points, which gave the index a two-day gain of more than 300.
The latest second-quarter earnings reports also convinced investors that the economic recovery is proceeding. So did announcements that General Electric Co. is raising its dividend and reports that French drug maker Sanofi-Aventis is interested in buying Genzyme Corp.
Investors were initially cautious about the stress tests, which measure how well banks would fare if government debt problems and the region's economy worsened. Europe's debt issues have sent stocks falling worldwide since April amid concerns they could slow the global economic recovery.
There were some concerns in the market that the tests might not have been rigorous enough. Because the results were issued after the close of trading in Europe, it won't be known until Monday how investors on the continent react. And, if they react badly, if that will prompt U.S. investors to sell.
The tests showed that just seven of 91 European banks tested would fail. The European Union said the results should put to rest questions about the health of the continent's financial sector.
Financial stocks, which had struggled early in the day, started to climb after the results were released at midday.
Brian Peardon, a wealth adviser at Harrison Financial Group, said there could be an initial, "gut" reaction to the results based on the headlines alone, but the full impact on the market won't come until next week because there is so much information to sort through.
"It will take the weekend to digest whether they're good or bad," Peardon said.
Some analysts were skeptical because there was little known about the criteria used to test the banks.
"There's obviously a lot of smoke and mirrors in these types of tests," said Albert Meyer, portfolio manager of the Mirzam Capital Appreciation Fund. "They no doubt provide us with numbers that aren't too alarming, even if they are correct."
Investors who have shuttled between buying and selling for weeks on uneven economic and earnings numbers have now had two straight days of upbeat news. On Thursday, stocks surged after Caterpillar Inc., UPS Inc. and other companies released results and forecasts that reassured investors who were disappointed by the first wave of second-quarter announcements. The latest reports, including results issued Friday by companies including Ford Motor Co. and Verizon Communications Inc., convinced investors that the economic recovery may not be as shaky as feared.
The Dow closed up 102.32, or 1 percent, at 10,424.62 after rising 201 on Thursday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 8.99, or 0.8 percent, to 1,102.66, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 23.58, or 1.1 percent, to 2,269.47.
Rising stocks outpaced those that fell by a 4 to 1 margin on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.15 billion shares.
The major indexes had a winning week, rebounding from the previous week's loss. The Dow rose 3.2 percent, the S&P 500 rose 3.5 percent and the Nasdaq picked up 4.2 percent.
Investors buying stocks took money out of Treasurys. That sent prices higher and interest rates lower. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3 percent from 2.94 percent late Thursday.
Industrial conglomerate General Electric said it would raise its dividend 2 cents per share and start buying back stock because of its improved financial position. GE was hit hard by the recession, so its ability to turn around and start paying out more money to shareholders is a sign the company believes the economy is improving.
A report that Sanofi-Aventis is looking to buy biotechnology company Genzyme is also boosting markets. Mergers and acquisitions activity is also a sign companies are confident the economy is improving and that they are ready to spend money to grow their businesses.
Meanwhile, Verizon, Ford and American Express Co. reported earnings that topped forecasts. Their results also showed that businesses and consumers are increasing their spending as the economy recovers.
Verizon added more new wireless customers during the second quarter than its top rival, AT&T Inc. Ford's sales jumped 28 percent in first half of the year, nearly double the pace of the industry. And American Express said customers are spending close to pre-recession levels, a sign that shoppers are gaining confidence in their personal finances.
"It provides a glimmer of hope," David Chalupnik, head of equities at First American Funds, said of the largely upbeat earnings throughout the week.
GE rose 50 cents, or 3.3 percent, to $15.71. Sanofi-Aventis' shares trading in the U.S. fell $1.29, or 4.2 percent, to $29.35, while Genzyme jumped $8.35, or 15.4 percent, to $62.52.
Verizon rose $1.02, or 3.8 percent, to $28.02. Ford jumped 63 cents, or 5.2 percent, to $12.72. American Express rose $1.60 or 3.7 percent, to $44.79.