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Stocks soar on solid economic reports; Dow up 2 percent

U.S. stocks rallied to start the month on an optimistic note, as rising energy prices and steady manufacturing activity lifted investor sentiment.

"We're definitely in like a lion, it's a pretty impressive start to the month," JJ Kinahan, chief strategist for TD Ameritrade, told CBS MoneyWatch. "The economy is not as bad as people were telling the world just a few short weeks ago."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) added 349 points, or 2.1 percent, at 16,865, with JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Apple (APPL) pacing blue-chip gains that included 29 of 30 components.

United Technologies (UTX) was among the Dow's decliners, with the aerospace company falling 1.6 percent after Honeywell International dropped its pursuit of the company. Shares of Honeywell (HON) rose 4.5 percent.

The S&P 500 (SPX) rose 46 points, or 2.4 percent, to 1,978, with financials and technology leading sector gains that included all but utilities of its 10 major industry groups. On Monday, the S&P 500 tallied a 0.4 percent drop for February after January's 5.1 percent decline.

The Nasdaq Composite climbed 132 points, or 2.9 percent, to 4,690.

Stocks sharpened their advance after data indicated factory output narrowed less than projected in February. The Institute for Supply Management's gauge rose to 49.5, the highest since September, from 48.2 in January, the group said.

While the index's rise had it just under 50, indicating a contraction in manufacturing, the improvement comes along with other industry data suggesting the sector is stabilizing.

Separately, the Commerce Department reported construction spending jumped 1.5 percent in January to its highest level since October 2007.

"At the beginning oil prices were leading the market, but then economic number numbers came out real strong, from auto sales to ISM manufacturing," Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial, said. "The big kicker was construction spending, which showed very solid gains and suggests that maybe the economy has picked up some steam here."

Auto stocks surged, with shares of Ford Motor Co. (F) and Fiat Chrysler both rallying after their February sales exceeded estimates.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude-oil futures surged to a one-month high, finishing the session up 65 cents, or 1.9 percent, at $34.40 a barrel.

"We see crude reaching over $34," Kinahan said. "Staying over $32 is a pretty positive thing."