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NEW YORK — U.S. stocks ended higher Thursday with the S&P 500 closing at a seven-week high as investors saw further signs of dovishness in the Federal Reserve’s September meeting minutes, which shed light on its decision to keep interest rates near zero.

The minutes showed the U.S. central bank thought the economy was close to warranting a rate hike but decided it was prudent to wait for evidence a global economic slowdown wasn’t knocking the U.S. off course.

While the initial reaction was muted, stocks gained ground as the session wore on. Strategists said the minutes showed less inclination for a rate hike and no unforeseen worries in the Fed’s view of the U.S. economy.

“You’ve got an absence of bad news and arguably some good news in there,” said Brad McMillan, Chief Investment Officer for Commonwealth Financial in Waltham, Massachusetts. “Given the news since then, if they were willing to wait then for inflation to come back they’re even more willing now.”

Last week’s unexpectedly weak jobs report pushed back many investor expectations for the timing of the Fed’s first rate hike since 2006.

The Sept. 17 Fed decision came during a period of heavy market volatility due to concerns about slowing global economic growth, particularly in China.

The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 138.46 points, or 0.8 percent, to 17,050.75, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index (^GSPC) gained 17.6 points, or 0.9 percent, to 2,013.43 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 19.64 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,810.79.

The S&P closed above its 50-day moving average for the first time since Aug. 18.

Energy Rally

The 10 major S&P sectors ended higher and energy led the way with a 1.9 percent jump as crude oil prices rallied to settle at a three-month high after a closely watched oil forecaster predicted prices would climb to $75 a barrel over the next two years, adding to early gains.

The health index ended 0.4 percent higher after spending much of the day in the red.

Alcoa (AA) officially started the earnings season after the market close, with a weak report that sent its shares down 4 percent in extended trading. Its quarterly sales fell 10.7 percent and missed expectations.

Investors are bracing for the effect of slowing global growth and a strong dollar on third-quarter earnings. Profits of companies in the S&P 500 are expected to fall 4.5 percent in the quarter, the biggest decline in six years, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,376 to 690, for a 3.44-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,808 issues rose and 973 fell for a 1.86-to-1 ratio favoring advancers. The S&P 500 posted 16 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 66 new highs and 35 new lows.

About 7.29 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges Thursday compared with an average of 7.49 billion for the previous 20 sessions, according to Thomson Reuters data.

What to watch Friday:

The Labor Department releases import and export prices for September at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
The Commerce Department releases wholesale trade inventories for August at 10 a.m.

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