Miss America 2016, Betty Cantrell Rings The New York Stock Exchange Opening Bell
Steve Mack/Getty ImagesMiss America 2016, Betty Cantrel, rings the opening bell Wednesday at the New York Stock Exchange.

NEW YORK — Energy stocks pushed Wall Street higher Wednesday due to an almost 6 percent jump in oil prices, but many investors stayed on the sidelines a day ahead of the Federal Reserve’s decision on interest rates.

The energy index led a broad rally for the S&P 500 benchmark index with a 2.8 percent increase as crude oil prices settled up 5.7 percent after an unexpected drawdown in U.S. stockpiles.

“Energy was what gave it the initial spark and the fact the energy rally kept rolling gave people reassurance they could step into other sectors as well,” said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments in Lisle, Illinois.

Trading was relatively thin with only 6.6 billion shares changing hands on U.S. exchanges Wednesday, below the 8.03 billion daily average for the previous 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

The Fed is due to announce a decision Thursday afternoon to either end or extend seven years of near-zero interest rates, potentially relieving markets of months of uncertainty as investors have been trying to predict the timing of a hike.

But the market’s rise didn’t indicate any real conviction about what the Fed will decide, said Tom Donino, co-head of trading at FNY Capital Management in New York.

“It’s either shorts covering, because they don’t want to be short tomorrow ahead of the Fed meeting, or it’s people that want to be long getting long in front of the Fed,” said Donino. “The market’s going to be volatile tomorrow.”

Wall Street’s top economists are on unfamiliar ground: as the Federal Reserve decides whether to raise interest rates for the first time in years, they are deeply divided on what will happen.

Fed fund futures see only a 30-percent chance that Janet Yellen and her colleagues will pull the trigger this week. Of the 80 economists polled by Reuters, only 35 said the central bank is likely to raise rates this week.

The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) closed up 140.1 points, or 0.8 percent, to 16,739.95, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index (^GSPC) gained 17.22 points, or 0.9 percent, to 1,995.31 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 28.72 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,889.24.

‘Bit of Backbone’

The materials sector was the next best gainer behind energy with an 1.4 percent rise after Glencore raised $2.5 billion through a share placement, boosting mining stocks and metals prices.

“That put a little bit of backbone behind people who want to start buying these mining stocks here,” said FNY’s Donino.

The S&P’s telecommunications index, the only sector out of 10 in negative territory, fell 0.2 percent.

Stocks have been volatile since China devalued its currency in August. The S&P 500 has had moves of at least 1 percent in 12 out of the last 19 sessions.

NYSE advancing issues outnumbered decliners 2,358 to 707, for a 3.34-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,753 issues rose and 1,056 fell, for a 1.66-to-1 ratio favoring advancers. The S&P 500 posted 9 new 52-week highs and 1 low; the Nasdaq recorded 39 new highs and 34 lows.


What to watch Thursday:

At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims, and the Commerce Department releases housing starts for August, as well as the current account trade deficit for the second quarter.
At 10 a.m., Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia releases its survey of manufacturing conditions in the Mid-Atlantic states.
Federal Reserve policymakers meet to set interest rates. A statement is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Earnings Season
These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:

Adobe Systems (ADBE)
Rite Aid (RAD)

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