Stocks rise following retail sales data


NEW YORK -- Wall Street began the week with a strong start Monday as better-than-expected profits at Citigroup Inc. and a healthy increase in consumer spending renewed investors' optimism about the economy. The Dow Jones industrials soared more than 100 points.

Earnings reports begin arriving at a steady clip this week, giving investors fresh indications about companies and the overall economy. This week nearly half the 30 Dow component companies report results.

While investors have been girding for a slowdown in growth of corporate profits, they are hoping consumer spending will remain robust. The Commerce Department on Monday reported that consumers spent strongly last month, sending retail sales up by about 0.7%. The figure was close to what analysts predicted, and up from a revised 0.5% increase in February.

Investors were also pleased by news of a buyout of SLM Corp., the student lender better known as Sallie Mae. SLM agreed Monday to be sold to two private investment funds and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. for $25 billion, or $60 per share. Sallie Mae rose $8.59, or 18.4%, to $58.40.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 108.33, or 0.86%, to 12,720.46. The Dow's increase Monday put the blue chip average back above where it stood before the major U.S. indexes fell more than 3% on Feb. 27 as part of a worldwide selloff. The Dow is within about 66 points of its all-time closing high of 12,786.64, reached Feb. 20.