US STOCKS-Wall St rallies after upbeat employment report
* February U.S. nonfarm payrolls increase 242,000 * HP Enterprise up after strong results * Indexes up: Dow 0.35 pct, S&P 0.40 pct, Nasdaq 0.36 pct (Updates to afternoon trading) By Noel Randewich March 4 (Reuters) - Wall Street rallied toward its fourth consecutive gain on Friday after employment data reduced investors' worries about a sluggish economy without bolstering fears of future interest rate hikes. For the first time since early January, the Dow Jones industrial average rose above the 17,000 mark and the S&P 500 surpassed 2,000, moves that some traders see as psychologically significant. The rally followed a report that nonfarm payrolls increased by 242,000 jobs last month. However, lower wages and hours worked kept a lid on inflation, a key factor in the Federal Reserve's decision to raise U.S. interest rates. "This number shows the economy is strong and the Fed's got time; it doesn't have to run off the sidelines and get involved in raising rates," said John Brady, managing director at R.J. O'Brien & Associates in Chicago. The Fed meets next on March 15-16. Traders still see the odds overwhelmingly against a rate hike this month. The S&P was on track for its fourth consecutive increase. Mostly steady gains in recent weeks have left the index down 2 percent in 2016 after the worst January since 2009. At 2:36 p.m. (1936 GMT), the Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.35 percent at 17,003.38 and the S&P 500 had gained 0.4 percent to 2,001.35. The Nasdaq Composite added 0.36 percent to 4,724.44. Eight of the 10 S&P sectors were higher, led by a 1.14 percent rise in the energy sector. Apple rose up 1.38 percent, the strongest positive influence on the S&P 500. Shares of Hewlett Packard Enterprise jumped 14.33 percent after the company reported better-than-expected results. Broadcom rose 6.75 percent after the chipmaker reported higher-than-expected profits. H & R Block fell 16.5 percent after the tax preparer reported a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss. Carmike Cinemas jumped 16.5 percent after AMC Entertainment said it would buy the theater chain for $1.1 billion, including debt. AMC rose 4.4 percent. Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,002 to 990. On the Nasdaq, 1,810 issues rose and 977 fell. The S&P 500 index showed 16 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 31 new highs and 23 lows. (Additional reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by James Dalgleish)
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