Happy St. Pat's: Dow, S&P 500 finally in the green for 2016

NEW YORK - An afternoon gain for stocks Thursday on the heels of a four-week rally has turned the Dow Jones industrial average positive for the year, wiping out its losses from a terrible start to 2016. Materials and energy companies are rising as the price of gold and silver and oil jump, and industrial companies are rising on hopes they'll be able to sell more products overseas.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 156 points, or 0,9 percent, to close at 17,481. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 16 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,041, just topping its 2038 opening level on Jan. 4, the first trading day of the year.

Down 10 percent a little more than a month ago, the Dow is higher for the first time all year, though only by a small amount. The S&P is up about two points on the year.

The Nasdaq composite rose 11 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,775. It's still down 4.5 percent in 2016.

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The price of gold jumped $35.20, or 2.9 percent, to $1,265 an ounce and silver climbed 81 cents, or 5.3 percent, to $16.03 an ounce. That was the biggest one-day gain for silver in more than a year. Copper rose 6 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $2.29 a pound. Gold is at its highest price in about a year, while silver and copper haven't traded this high in about five months.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.74, or 4.5 percent, to close at $40.20 a barrel, its first close above $40 since early December. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oils, gained $1.21, or 3 percent, to $41.54 a barrel in London. Oil prices are now higher than they were at the end of 2015, but they're still far lower they have been for most of the last decade.

Package delivery company FedEx rose after it reported strong holiday-season sales, helped by continued growth in online shopping. FedEx also raised its projections for the year. The stock gained $15.73, or 10.9 percent, to $160. That's its biggest one-day gain since 2002.

When the Federal Reserve decided Wednesday to leave interest rates unchanged, and suggested it will go slower in raising rates later this year, the dollar lost strength and commodity prices climbed. Commodities are priced in dollars, so a weaker dollar makes them more affordable in foreign markets and gives demand a boost. Investors also tend to buy gold when the dollar loses strength.

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Mining companies and makers of chemicals, jets, farm equipment and heavy machinery all traded higher. General Electric picked up 86 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $31.03 and Boeing gained $3.47, or 2.7 percent, to $131.04. Glass container maker Owens-Illinois rose $1.35, or 9 percent, to $16.33. Agribusiness giant Monsanto rose $2.12, or 2.3 percent, to $92.83.

Over the last few years the dollar has gotten stronger and stronger compared to other currencies as investors waited for interest rates to rise. Over the same period, metals prices have weakened. Now that the Fed is saying it will raise rates more slowly, the dollar is slipping and metals prices are rising.

"When the dollar strengthens gold tends to sell off and vice versa," said James Butterfill, head of research and investment strategy at ETF Securities.

He added that investors aren't sure what monetary policy makers in Europe will do, and that kind of uncertainty usually sends metals prices higher.

Health care stocks continued to slump as Congress scrutinized drug pricing practices in a hearing of the Senate Committee on Aging. Investors are fearful that it will get harder for drug companies to raise their prices and boost their profits and revenues.

SeaWorld Entertainment said it will immediately stop breeding orcas after years of controversy over keeping the whales in captivity. The move will phase the animals out of its theme parks. The stock gained $1.60, or 9.3 percent, to $18.72.

The Labor Department reported that applications for unemployment benefits rose slightly last week, but they remain at levels consistent with a healthy job market.

Bond prices have also risen, dampening their yields. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 1.90 percent after it fell to 1.91 percent on Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.1317 from $1.1204. The dollar fell to 111.50 yen from 112.68 yen.

Wholesale gasoline picked up two cents to $1.44 a gallon and heating oil rose two cents to $1.25 a gallon. Natural gas gained seven cents, or 3.6 percent, to $1.94 per 1,000 cubic feet.