* March payrolls data better than expected
* Regeneron up after eczema treatment found effective
* S&P 500 up 13 pct in past seven weeks
* Indexes up: Dow 0.41 pct, S&P 0.37 pct, Nasdaq 0.60 pct (Updates to afternoon)
By Noel Randewich
April 1 (Reuters) - Wall Street extended a seven-week rally on Friday after upbeat U.S. jobs and factory data hinted at stronger corporate earnings without increasing concerns of potential U.S. interest rate hikes.
The Labor Department’s report showed solid gains in nonfarm payrolls in March while the unemployment rate rose to 5 percent from an eight-year low of 4.9 percent as more Americans entered the labor force.
Along with another report showing the U.S. manufacturing sector resumed growth in March, the employment data suggested the economy is not growing fast enough to increase concerns about inflation.
“It’s a very solid number overall, but I don’t think it changes anything as far as the Fed’s outlook,” said Jon Adams, a senior investment strategist and portfolio manager at BMO in Chicago.
Stock gains were limited by a 1.3 percent drop in the S&P 500 energy sector as oil prices tumbled nearly 4 percent amid increasing skepticism around a deal to freeze crude production.
Since mid-February, the S&P has surged 13 percent, recovering from deep losses thanks to a stabilization of oil prices and reduced concerns about a stumble in China’s economy and its potential fallout in the United States.
At 2:32 pm, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.41 percent at 17,758.34 points and the S&P 500 had gained 0.37 percent to 2,067.32.
The Nasdaq Composite added 0.6 percent to 4,899.00.
Six of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher. The healthcare sector rose 1.01 percent, boosted by Regeneron.
The drugmaker’s shares surged 13 percent after its experimental treatment for eczema was found to be highly effective in two large studies.
Chevron lost 0.95 percent and weighed the most on the Dow, while Exxon fell 0.75 percent and was the biggest drag on the S&P.
Marriott fell 5.3 percent after China’s Anbang Insurance abandoned its competing $14 billion bid for Starwood Hotels. Starwood lost 4.69 percent.
Wall Street analysts have been concerned about tepid corporate earnings and will keep a close eye on the quarterly reports that start rolling in next month.
Analysts expect S&P 500 companies’ first-quarter earnings to fall 7 percent year over year, with energy companies weighing heavily.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,660 to 1,300. On the Nasdaq, 1,564 issues rose and 1,188 rose.
The S&P 500 index showed 57 new 52-week highs and two new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 50 new highs and 17 new lows. (Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Meredith Mazzilli)