NEW YORK – Stocks posted solid gains in a quiet session Wednesday, helped by advances in health care and industrial companies.
Without any major economic reports to work with, trading was lighter than usual. Many investors remain on the sidelines ahead of Thursday's release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting and the start of corporate earnings season.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 122.10 points, or 0.7 percent, to 16,912.29. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 15.91 points, or 0.8 percent, to 1,995.83 and the Nasdaq composite rose 42.79 points, or 0.9 percent, to 4,791.15.
The biggest gainers were stocks that were hit hardest the day before: health care, particularly biotechnology companies, and energy stocks. Drugmaker Amgen rose nearly 5 percent, Celgene rose 4 percent and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals rose nearly 6 percent.
By far the biggest loser in the S&P 500 index was Yum Brands, the parent company of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. Yum sank $15.71, or 19 percent, to $67.71 after the restaurant operator's profits and sales missed analysts' expectations. Sales in China, a major market for KFC, rose only 2 percent, far less than expected.
Events over the next two weeks are likely to determine the market's next move. Earnings season will unofficially start Thursday when Alcoa, the giant maker of aluminum, will report its results.
Expectations for this round of earnings are low. Analysts expect third-quarter results to be down 5.1 percent from last year, according to FactSet, which would be the first back-to-back quarterly drop in earnings since 2009.
"Expectations are so low this quarter that it's not going to be hard for companies to beat," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank.