The Dow Jones industrial average gained 21.57 points, or 0.2 percent, to end at 12,471.02 It was down most of the day, losing 64 points in the first hour of trading, following a spike in unemployment claims and a weak report on December retail sales.
Materials and industrial companies led the afternoon recovery. Caterpillar and Alcoa rose the most in the Dow. The S&P 500 finished up 3.02 points, or 0.2 percent, at 1,295.50. The Nasdaq composite rose 13.94 points, 0.5 percent, to 2,724.70
Stocks drove higher in the last hour and a half of trading after oil prices dropped below $100 per barrel for the first time this year. Oil fell on rumors that Europe will delay an embargo on Iran. Crude plunged $2 a barrel in just eight minutes, ending at $99.
Also pushing stocks were strong bond auctions in Italy and Spain. European markets ended mostly higher rose after Italy and Spain held highly successful bond auctions, easing worries about Europe’s debt crisis. Italy’s benchmark stock index rose 2.1 percent.
In Italy’s first bond auction of the new year, the country was able to sell one-year bonds at a rate of just 2.735 percent, less than half the 5.95 percent rate it had to pay last month. That’s a signal that investors are becoming more confident in Italy’s ability to pay its debts.