U.S. stocks rose on Wednesday, with major indexes posting their best daily gains since early January, as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke remained steadfast in supporting the Fed's stimulus policy and data pointed to economic improvement.
In a second day before a congressional committee, Bernanke defended the Fed's buying of bonds to keep interest rates low to boost growth. The market's jump of more than 1 percent also came on better-than-expected data on business spending plans and the housing market.
Bernanke's remarks helped the market rebound from its worst decline since November and put the S&P 500 index back above 1,500, a closely watched level that has been technical support until recently. The Dow Jones industrial average closed at a level not seen since 2007 as it again pulled within striking distance of an all-time high.
Speaking before the House Financial Services Committee, Bernanke downplayed signs of internal divisions at the Fed, saying the policy of quantitative easing, or QE, has the support of a "significant majority" of top central bank officials.
Bernanke removed a headwind from markets arising from concerns the Fed's quantitative easing might end earlier than anticipated. Doubts about the Fed's intentions had broken a seven-week streak of gains by stocks.
"The Fed continues to encourage risk-taking in markets, which is a powerful tool that makes the danger not being long stocks, not in being too long," said Tom Mangan, a money manager at James Investment Research Inc in Xenia, Ohio.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 176.32 points, or 1.27 percent, at 14,076.45. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 19.07 points, or 1.27 percent, at 1,516.01. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 32.61 points, or 1.04 percent, at 3,162.26.
Pending home sales jumped 4.5 percent in January, three times the rate of growth that had been expected. While orders for durable goods fell more than expected in January, non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft - a closely watched proxy for business spending plans - showed the biggest gain since December 2011..
About 74 percent of stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange closed higher while 64 percent of Nasdaq-listed shares closed up.
The S&P turned very slightly higher on the week, recovering from the index's biggest daily drop since November on Monday. That drop came on concerns over Italy's election, as well as over sequestration - U.S. government budget cuts that will take effect starting on Friday if lawmakers