ADVERTISEMENT

The stock market finally shook its post-election slump.

Investors seized on hope that Washington will reach a deal on the federal budget and drove stocks to their biggest gain in two months. A pair of strong corporate earnings reports also helped.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 207 points, or 1.7 percent. Since President Obama and a divided Congress were returned to power Nov. 6, the Dow had fallen six out of eight days and slid 650 points.

Obama and congressional leaders are in talks to avoid going over a “fiscal cliff” on Jan. 1, when tax increases and mandatory government spending cuts are set to take effect.

While Obama and Republicans appear at odds on whether tax rates for the wealthiest Americans should rise, lawmakers suggested over the weekend that progress is possible.

“I can tell you that the fiscal cliff is focusing the mind,” Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He said he had heard from Republicans “the beginning of a negotiation.”

Comments like those comforted investors, who are grasping for signs that negotiations might go somewhere.

“It is quite clear that both sides want to come to a compromise and that a reasonable compromise is available,” David Kelly, chief global strategist for J.P. Morgan Funds, wrote in a note to clients.

The Dow finished up 207.65 points at 12,795.96. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 27.01 points, or 2 percent, to 1,386.89. The Nasdaq composite average gained 62.94, or 2.2 percent, to 2,916.07.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq were lifted by Apple, which had its biggest one-day gain since April. It rose $38.05, or 7.2 percent, to $565.73. Some analysts cast doubt on a sell-off that had pushed the stock down more than 20 percent from its recent peak.

Corporate earnings reports also boosted the indexes. Lowe’s said its third-quarter profit surged 76 percent. That followed a strong report from Home Depot last week. Lowe’s rose $1.98, or 6.2 percent, to $33.96.

Tyson Foods, the country’s biggest meat company, beat analysts’ expectations for its quarterly earnings. Tyson added $1.84, or 10.9 percent, to $18.72.

Materials stocks, a category that includes foresting companies, metal producers and miners, soared, supported by the latest sign that a recovery in the housing market has stabilized.

Stocks had fallen in each of the past four weeks as traders fretted about the possibility that lawmakers will fail to prevent the spending cuts and tax increases from taking effect.

Economists have warned that the hit to the economy could total $700 billion for 2013 and push the United States back into recession, although the damage from the “cliff” would come slowly, and lawmakers could always reach a deal after Jan. 1.

The indexes turned positive Friday afternoon, breaking a four-day slump, amid signs that Obama and Republicans in Congress were prepared to cede long-held positions.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, said they had offered higher tax revenue as part of a deal. That could include limiting tax deductions for the highest earners.