Stocks got closer to their highs of the year as the broad market turned positive for the month and was on track to post the best quarter of the year, although volumes remained thin amid geopolitical uncertainty.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 71.60 points, or 0.6 percent, to close at 12,350.61, after closing higher in the previous session, and rising eight of the last 10 sessions.The blue-chip index is nearing a 2-1/2 year high (the Dow closed at 12,391 on Feb. 18), and is up more than 1 percent for March. AT&T , Merck and Exxon Mobil led the Dow higher, while Cisco slipped.
The S&P 500 rose 8.82 points, or 0.7 percent, to close at 1,328.26. Today's move put the broad market index into positive territory for March, up 0.08 percent.
The Nasdaq rose 19.90 points, or 0.7 percent, to close at 2,776.79, remaining slightly negative for the month, down 0.2 percent.
The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, fell below 18.
All key S&P 500 sectors advanced, led by telecom, utilities and consumer discretionary.
Todays' move higher is "part of the continuing movement out of fixed income and into the equity markets," said Bernard McSherry, senior vice president at Cuttone.
The fact volume has been light for several sessions, though, worries McSherry, who said you want investors "to really buy into" a rally. Volume on the consolidated tape of the New York Stock Exchange was 3.7 billion shares, while only 919 million changed hands on the NYSE floor.
At current levels, the market is on track to post the best quarter since 1998. That's in the face of unrest and uncertainty around the globe, from fighting in Libya, to protests in the Middle East, to the repercussions from the disaster in Japan.
One reason for the U.S. market's resilience is investors have few other places to invest, Yu-Dee Chang, chief trader at principal at ACE Investment Strategists told CNBC.com.
"There’s a lot of concerns everywhere, but there is no yield anywhere," Chang said. "So everyone is forced back in the market."
Among U.S. stocks, Chang likes big, dividend-paying companies, but he's also making a bet on financials, which had largely slumped since announcing dividend increases and stock buybacks after receiving approvals from the Federal Reserve. Analysts had anticipated the payouts to shareholders, and the stocks sold off on the news.
"We like to buy on dips," Chang said, adding that he likes large-cap financials, and the Financial Select SPDR Fund, which gained Wednesday.
Chang also likes gold, and gold-related stocks and ETFs, as he believes precious metals are benefiting from the current instability in the world. But if stability returns, the economy will revive, and so will inflation, also making gold a smart investment. Gold closed above $1,423 an ounce.