Investors are getting optimistic that the Federal Reserve will restart some of its economic stimulus programs.
Stocks closed moderately higher Monday, a sign that many traders expect the Fed to take steps to put some energy back into the recovery. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 45 points, more than making back its loss from Friday.
Volume on the New York Stock Exchange fell to its lowest level of the year as many investors stayed out of the market while they waited for the Fed's decision. Many have been avoiding big investment decisions for much of the summer because they have no sense of where the economy is headed.
The Fed's assessment of the economy, and any plans to resume its stimulus measures, will be issued after its meeting ends Tuesday afternoon.
"The market loves stimulus. The market wants stimulus," said Joe Saluzzi, co-head of equity trading at Themis Trading LLC in Chatham, New Jersey.
The Fed will likely leave its federal funds rate near zero, but the central bank could signal plans to restart some programs such as its purchase of mortgage-backed securities or buy Treasury bonds. The central bank's programs ended earlier this year when it appeared the recovery was proceeding well.
"The Fed has a lot of tools in its tool shed," said Larry Rosenthal, president of Financial Planning Services in Manassas, Virginia. "They have to bring buyers back into the market; they have to bring consumption back into the market."
The recovery has stalled as consumers, watching the labor market stagnate, have been reluctant to spend. Meanwhile, bank lending levels have remained low, the result of caution on the part of borrowers as well as bankers.
Still, Rosenthal said any moves would also have to ensure that inflation doesn't become a problem too quickly. The Fed could say Tuesday that it is ready to start new programs to encourage bank lending even if it doesn't implement them immediately.
Hewlett-Packard Co. shares tumbled after its CEO was forced to resign Friday.
The Dow rose 45.19, or 0.4 percent, to 10,698.75. On Friday, the Dow fell 21 after investors were disappointed by the government's weak July jobs report.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 6.15, or 0.6 percent, to 1,127.79, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 17.22, or 0.8 percent, to 2,305.69.
Advancing stocks were ahead of losers by almost 3 to 1 on New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume, which includes shares traded on other exchanges, came in at 3.3 billion shares. On Friday, volume was an already extremely light 3.9 billion shares.
Bond prices traded in a narrow range Monday. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 2.83 percent from 2.82 percent late Friday.
Hank Smith, chief investment officer at Haverford Investments in Radnor, Pennsylvania, said the Fed has to be careful with how it phrases its assessment of the economy and any plans to restart stimulus programs. While investors know that the economy is weaker than it was earlier this year, bad news from the Fed could lead to further problems, starting with a drop in the stock market.
"It might be a self-fulfilling prophecy," Smith said.
European markets jumped after German exports reached their highest levels since late 2008, indicating the country's economy is recovering much faster than previously thought. There were concerns this spring that mounting government debt in countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal would stagnate Europe's economy. The German exports report was the latest data from the continent that showed the pace of growth is speeding up rather than slowing down.
Germany's DAX index gained 1.5 percent, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 1.5 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 1.7 percent. Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 0.7 percent.
Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd was forced to resign after a sexual harassment claim led to the discovery he falsified expense reports. HP shares fell $3.70, or 8 percent, to close at $42.60.
McDonald's Corp. rose after it reported strong July sales, including its biggest jump in U.S. sales in more than a year. The stock rose $1.18 to $72.92.