Wall St. gains with healthcare, upbeat auto sales

Wall St. gains with healthcare, upbeat auto sales

By Caroline Valetkevitch

(Reuters) - U.S. stocks started December stronger on Tuesday as health and consumer shares bounced back while auto sales suggested upbeat growth in November.

The S&P health care index <.SPXHC> jumped 1.7 percent, while the consumer discretionary index <.SPLRCD> was up 1 percent, both retracing Monday's losses.

UnitedHealth Group Inc's <UNH.N> shares rose 3.1 percent to $116.26 after its chief executive defended the company's possible withdrawal from the Obamacare health insurance exchanges. Shares of Anthem <ANTM.N> were up 4.2 percent at $135.82.

Strong U.S. auto sales in November kept the industry on pace for a record year in 2015. Shares of Ford <F.N> were up 1.6 percent at $14.56, though General Motors' <GM.N> shares were up 0.2 percent at $36.26.

The S&P retail index <.SPXRT> rose 1 percent. Amazon <AMZN.O> was up 2.1 percent at $679.06.

"We get a feeling the consumer is still there though it's not shopping brick and mortar as much. Cyber Monday results were certainly more positive than Black Friday results. Christmas hasn't been canceled, and that's been reflected in stocks today," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 168.43 points, or 0.95 percent, to 17,888.35, the S&P 500 <.SPX> gained 22.22 points, or 1.07 percent, to 2,102.63 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 47.64 points, or 0.93 percent, to 5,156.31.

Other data showed a sturdy increase in construction spending in October. Offsetting the upbeat economic news, though, was a report showing U.S. manufacturing contracted in November for the first time in three years.

Investors are watching data closely ahead of next week's Federal Reserve meeting, where the central bank could decide to raise interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade.

The main economic report this week will be the November employment report on Friday, which is expected to show that the economy added 200,000 jobs during the month. Analysts say a strong report virtually guarantees a rate rise this month.

Investors are also awaiting a European Central Bank meeting on Thursday, when the bank is widely expected to ramp up its trillion-euro bond-buying program.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,183 to 899, for a 2.43-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,629 issues rose and 1,185 fell for a 1.37-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 26 new 52-week highs and five new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 114 new highs and 65 new lows.

About 6.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, slightly above the 6.8 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

(Additional reporting by Sinead Carew in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry and Nick Zieminski)

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