NEW YORK - The stock market surged to its biggest gain since early September on Friday after another strong month of hiring by U.S. employers.
Stocks started the day higher after the Labor Department said employers added 211,000 jobs in November. That was more than investors expected, and a sign that consumers are still spending and keeping the economy afloat even as manufacturing and energy companies are struggling.
The rally gained more power after European Central Bank president Mario Draghi said the bank was ready to expand its stimulus program if necessary. Stocks and bonds tumbled Thursday after the ECB announced new stimulus measures, but didn't do as much as investors expected.
"His clarification of comments he made earlier in the week gives investors confidence that ECB will continue its 'whatever is necessary' course," said Erik Davidson, chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 369.96 points, or 2.1 percent, to 17,847.63. The Standard & Poor's 500 index had its best day since Sept. 8, rising 42.07 points, or 2.1 percent, to 2,091.69. The Nasdaq composite increased 104.74 points, or 2.1 percent, to 5,142.27 points.
When the Federal Reserve decided not to raise interest rates in September, investors gradually concluded that the Fed would act in December unless it received some big warning signs about the health of the economy.
The Fed slashed its key short-term interest rate to near zero during the financial crisis and kept it low throughout the recession to encourage lending and hiring. It hasn't raised interest rates in nine years.
Davidson said the jobs data was as good as investors expected, which gives them more confidence in the state of the economy and the Fed's plans. "The markets love predictability, and this is about as predictable as you can get," he said.
Luke Bartholomew, investment manager at Aberdeen Capital Management, said it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Fed will raise interest rates, but it isn't clear what will happen after that.