The day's gains were broad even as indexes came off session highs. About two-thirds of NYSE stocks traded higher, down from four-fifths earlier in the session.
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The move came after European Central Bank head Mario Draghi said "excessively low" inflation had to be raised quickly by whatever means necessary, rekindling expectations the ECB will move to stimulate the euro zone economy. The ECB said it started buying asset-backed securities to encourage banks to lend and revive the economy.
"It isn't the size of the moves but the shock value of the direction that is really lifting markets today," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia, which manages about $67 billion in assets. "This is a one-two punch for global growth."
Equity investors have expected other major central banks to step up their accommodative policies as the U.S. Federal Reserve scales down its stimulus, which has been a pillar of a years-long bull market on Wall Street.
At 1:29 p.m. EST, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 50.96 points, or 0.29 percent, to 17,769.96, the S&P 500 gained 5.33 points, or 0.26 percent, to 2,058.08 and the Nasdaq Composite added 6.58 points, or 0.14 percent, to 4,708.45.
Stocks came off their highs of the day as the energy sector sharply lost ground. The index rose 0.6 percent after earlier rising almost 2 percent. The pullback came as Brent crude prices shaved a gain of almost 3 percent down to a 0.2 percent advance. U.S. crude futures turned negative.
All but two of the ten primary S&P 500 sectors rose on the day. The only ones to fall were telecom and utilities , both of which are viewed as defensive plays that are less tied to the pace of economic growth.
GameStop Corp sank 12 percent to $38.27 a day after the video game products retailer posted quarterly revenue and earnings well below expectations. The stock was the biggest decliner on the S&P 500.
The benchmark index's biggest gainers were Ross Stores and Autodesk Inc , both of which rallied after results late Thursday.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,036 to 971, for a 2.10-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,634 issues rose and 1,046 fell for a 1.56-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting 93 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 106 new highs and 28 new lows.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)