Upbeat banks drive stocks higher

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The Dow Jones industrial average rose 55.48 points to close at 11,787.38

JP Morgan Chase and other banks have driven US stock indexes higher.

JP Morgan rose 1% after reporting that its income soared 47% in the fourth quarter. The bank set aside less money to cover bad loans and said it expected to get permission from the Federal Reserve to raise its dividend.

Wells Fargo, Bank of America and other large banks also rose on hopes that they too would be able to raise dividends. Banks slashed their dividends during the financial crisis to conserve cash. Investors have been urging banks to raise their dividends now that many of them are making money again.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 55.48 points, or 0.5%, to 11,787.38. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 9.48, or 0.7%, to 1,293.24. The Nasdaq rose 20.01, or 0.7%, to 2,755.30.

Gains were spread across the market. Consumer staples companies were the only one of the 10 company groups that make up the S&P 500 index to fall. Financial companies gained the most at 1.7%.

Bank of America jumped 3.2% to lead the 30 stocks that make up the Dow. Merck & Co had the largest fall at 1.3%.

The Labour Department reported that consumer prices rose 0.5% last month, the largest increase since June 2009. However, 80% of the increase was due to higher fuel prices, meaning that the risk of widespread inflation remains low.

Without food and energy costs, consumer prices increased only 0.1% for the second straight month. This “core” inflation rate has gained just 0.8% in the past year.

In a separate report, the Commerce Department said retail sales rose in December for the sixth month in a row, driven by gains in car and furniture sales.

Treasury prices fell slightly. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 3.33% from 3.30% late on Thursday. The yield is used by lenders to set interest rates on mortgages and other loans.

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