NEW YORK, FEB. 29 -- The stock market climbed today to its highest level since the October collapse with a broad advance that gathered momentum as the session progressed.
The Dow Jones average of 30 industrials jumped 48.41 to 2071.62, posting more than half its gain in the last hour of trading.
Advancing issues outnumbered declines by about 7 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange. Big Board volume reached 236.05 million shares, against 191.09 million in the previous session.
Analysts said traders were heartened to see the Dow industrials vault past the 2051.89 level, where it stood Jan. 7 for its previous highest closing reading since the crash last year.
The average failed in a bid to surpass that point last week, but no significant selling pressure followed, suggesting to many analysts that it was primed to make another try.
One concern facing the market is the report due Tuesday from the Commerce Department on the index of leading economic indicators for January. Analysts generally expect the figure to show a decline.
But Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co. said it believes the 0.2 percent drop originally reported for December might be revised to show a gain. That would mean that the index would no longer have a string of three consecutive monthly declines, a phenomenon that is traditionally regarded as a potential recession warning.
The Dow Jones industrials finished February with a gain of 113.40 points. The average stands some 333 points above its close of 1738.74 on Black Monday.
Observers said enthusiasm for stocks was fueled by continuing brisk takeover activity.
On the takeover scene, Roper Corp. jumped 10 3/4 to 36 7/8. The company agreed to be acquired by Whirlpool Corp. for $37.50 a share.
Homestake Mining climbed 3 1/2 to 18. Mesa Limited Partnership made a $20-a-share offer for the company.
Stop & Shop picked up 7/8 to 43 1/2. The company, fighting a hostile bid by Dart Group, reached agreement on a buyout at $44 a share by a group organized by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
Point-plus gainers among the blue chips included General Motors, up 3 1/8 at 72 1/4; Merck, up 4 5/8 at 165 3/8; International Business Machines, up 1 3/4 at 117 1/2; General Electric, up 1 7/8 at 45 1/2, and International Paper, up 1 5/8 at 44 3/8.
Public Service Enterprise Group, parent of Public Service Electric & Gas of Newark, N.J., was the most active issue, up 1/4 to 24 5/8 on volume of 40.1 million shares. The stock pays an annual dividend of about 8.1 percent.
Ohio Edison followed, off 1/8 to 19 1/4 with 16.7 million shares having changed hands. It yields approximately 10.1 percent.
Nationwide turnover in NYSE-listed issues, including trades in those stocks on regional exchanges and in the over-the-counter market, totaled 265.09 million shares.
Standard & Poor's index of 400 industrials rose 6.80 to 309.43, and S&P's 500-stock composite index was up 5.36 at 267.82.
The Nasdaq composite index for the over-the-counter market gained 3.55 to 366.95. At the American Stock Exchange, the market value index closed at 288.46, up 4.14.