NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks are climbing Wednesday after a survey of private businesses showed that hiring was very strong last month. That was a relief to investors, who were worried about spending after a weak report on auto sales earlier this week. Energy and basic materials companies are making some of the biggest gains, and the Nasdaq composite is on track for another record close.
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 9 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,369 as of 2:40 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 99 points, or 0.5 percent, to 20,788. The Nasdaq composite gained 18 points, or 0.3 percent, to 5,916, above the record it notched last week.
ECONOMY: Payroll processor ADP said private U.S. businesses added 263,000 jobs in March, which was more than analysts expected. It was also the biggest one-month gain since December 2014. The U.S. government will release its own jobs report on Friday.
The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks rose as much as 1 percent early on, but returned some of those gains following a disappointing report on service companies. The index lost 2 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,366.
THE QUOTE: Stocks weakened over the last two days after car companies reported a drop in sales in March. Investors wondered if that meant consumers were growing reluctant to spend money. Katie Nixon, chief investment officer for Wealth Management at Northern Trust, said the ADP survey suggests that won't happen: even though the economy has been growing for about eight years, employers are still hiring a lot of workers.
"It suggests that the cycle can indeed go on much longer than many had feared," she said. "We continue to see pretty good strength in the employment market."
PANERA BREAD RISING: Panera agreed to be acquired by JAB Holding of Europe for $315 a share. JAB has quietly become a rival to Starbucks in recent years as it owns, or has a large stake in, a series of brands that includes Peet's Coffee & Tea, Caribou Coffee, Stumptown Coffee, Keurig Green Mountain and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Panera stock has jumped on recent days thanks to rumors about a deal, and it rose $38.16, or 13.9 percent, to $312.15 Wednesday. The stock was trading at $230 a share a month ago.
WORKING ON THE RAILROAD: Greenbrier, which makes railroad freight car equipment, announced a bigger profit and better sales than analysts expected. It also said rail traffic is growing and announced a $1 billion agreement with a key customer. Greenbrier stock climbed $4.40, or 10.2 percent, to $47.35. Airlines, railroads and trucking companies also climbed.
SHOPPING SURGE: Consumer focused companies also made hefty gains. They were led by big names including McDonald's, which jumped $1.86, or 1.4 percent, to $131.15. Amazon rose $13.03, or 1.4 percent, to $919.86 and home improvement retailer Home Depot added $1.77, or 1.2 percent, to $148.11. Toy maker Mattel rose 42 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $25.39.
ENERGY: While oil prices didn't move much, energy companies made big gains. Halliburton picked up 93 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $50.48 and Chevron added $1.17, or 1.1 percent, to $109.83.
U.S. crude oil rose 12 cents to $51.15 a barrel in New York. Brent, the international standard, gained 19 cents to $54.36 a barrel in London.
BONDS: Bond prices slipped and yields inched higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.38 percent from 2.36 percent. Banks moved higher after a recent slump. Citigroup rose 72 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $60.40 and Bank of New York Mellon advanced 81 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $47.78.
GREEN SHOOTS: Early Wednesday, U.S. and European regulators approved the sale of Swiss agribusiness Syngenta to ChemChina. ChemChina will have to sell some businesses to complete the $43 billion deal, but those rulings may have made investors more hopeful that two other giant chemical deals will be approved.
Dow Chemical and DuPont, which plan to combine, both rose. Dow Chemical gained $1.08, or 1.7 percent, to $64.28 and DuPont rose $1.62, or 2 percent, to $81.42.
Monsanto reported profit and sales that were far better than analysts expected. Monsanto said profits from its corn and soybean businesses grew in the fiscal second quarter. It also backed its forecasts for the year and said its sale to Bayer of Germany should close by the end of the year. The stock rose $1.46, or 1.3 percent, to $115.67.
METALS: Gold sank $9.90 to $1,248.50 an ounce. Silver lost 14 cents to $18.19 an ounce. Copper jumped 7 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $2.68 a pound.
OTHER ENERGY TRADING: Wholesale gasoline remained at $1.72 a gallon. Heating oil rose 1 cent to $1.60 a gallon. Natural gas decline 3 cents to $3.27 per 1,000 cubic feet.
CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 111.3325 yen from 110.65 yen. The euro fell to $1.0652 from $1.0670.
OVERSEAS: The FTSE 100 index in Britain gained 0.1 percent. France's CAC 40 lost 0.2 percent and the DAX in Germany fell 0.5 percent. Japan's Nikkei 225 index gained 0.3 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 0.6 percent. The Kospi of South Korea finished little changed.
AP Markets Writer Marley Jay can be reached at http://twitter.com/MarleyJayAP His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/marley-jay