NEW YORK - A sharp rally in the dollar relented Thursday, helping push the stock market to its best day in five weeks.
The U.S. currency dropped for the first day in nine against the euro after a weak retail sales report raised questions about the strength of the economy.
A jump in the dollar since the start of the month has pushed stocks back from record levels. Investors are worried that the stronger U.S. currency could crimp corporate earnings by hurting overseas sales. About half of the revenue generated by companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index comes from overseas.
Financial stocks were among the biggest gainers after a number of banks got approval from the Federal Reserve to raise dividends and buy back shares. Intel was one of the day's biggest losers after the company cut its revenue forecast for the first quarter.
"It's the pullback in the dollar that's cheering investors," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. "The frenzy that we saw in the foreign exchange markets has, at least for today, calmed down."
The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 25.71 points, or 1.26 percent, to 2,065.95 - the best performance for the index since Feb. 3.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 259.83 points, or 1.47 percent, to 17,895.22. The Nasdaq composite climbed 43.55 points, or 0.89 percent, to 4,893.29.
Retail sales remain poor despite a big drop in gas prices last year. U.S. retail sales fell in February as auto purchases dropped by the most in more than a year and Americans spent less at restaurants and home improvement stores. Retail sales fell 0.6 percent last month after a 0.8 percent decline in January, the Commerce Department said Thursday. It was the third straight drop.
Many investors think it's only a matter of time before consumers start to spend again, particularly if gas prices stay low and wages start to rise.
U.S. government bond prices were little changed from Wednesday. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note held steady at 2.11 percent.
In metals trading, gold gained $1.30, or 0.1 percent, to $1,151.90 an ounce. Silver rose 15 cents, or 1 percent, to $15.52 an ounce. Copper gained 5.3 cents, or 2 percent, to $2.66 per pound.
The price of oil fell for the fifth time in six days on continuing concerns about rising supplies in the United States and around the world. Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.12 to close at $47.05 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 46 cents to close at $57.08 in London.
In other futures trading on the NYMEX, natural gas fell 9 cents to close at $2.734 per 1,000 cubic feet.