Today, the stock market finally got over its hurricane fever, racking up some of its biggest gains since before Rita hit New Orleans.
Stocks broke out of the narrow range they had been stuck in for a week after the oil futures markets calmed down, raising hope that the big jumps in fuel prices are over.
But end-of-the-quarter trading may also have played a role.
Today was the next-to-the-last trading session of the third quarter. Often, some investment managers buy stocks to dress up the list of holdings they must report to their clients at the end of the quarter. The result frequently is an end-of-the quarter bump in prices that doesn't necessarily continue when the calendar flips over.
Buyers may also have been motivated by predictions that soon-to-be-released third-quarter earnings will be good. The actual earnings numbers will not begin to flow for a couple of weeks, but companies that are having problems usually issue warnings of bad news ahead. So far there have been very few of those warnings.
But a Virginia company did issue a profit warning today and got hammered by investors. Shares of Amerigroup Corp. of Virginia Beach fell more than 40 percent, plunging $14.10 a share to $19.81 after the company said its profits will be far short of predictions. Amerigroup manages government health care programs in the District and nine states.
More encouraging to the market was the latest report from the Commerce Department, which showed that the U.S. economy grew at a rate of 3.3 percent in the second quarter. That is considered strong growth, but not so strong as to raise fears of inflation.
The government's weekly report on new applications for jobless benefits was better than expected. Swollen last week by hurricane victims, the unemployment lines shrank by 79,000 people to 356,000. About 60,000 of the applicants were people who lost their jobs because of the storms.
The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index turned in its best performance since mid-July, gaining almost 26 points to 2,141.22.
The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index had its best day in three weeks, climbing 11 points to 1,227.68.
The Dow Jones industrial average added almost 80 points -- the biggest gain in two weeks -- closing at 10,552.78.