Stocks were higher today, led by insurers, after the resignation of Marsh & McLennan Cos.' chief executive officer raised optimism the company may avoid criminal prosecution in state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's investigation of the industry.
Continued volatility in oil prices kept many investors from making large bets in stocks. A barrel of light crude was quoted at $54.75, up 21 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
"Pick your uncertainty. You have oil. You have elections. We need to pop some of these bubbles of uncertainty before we can go anywhere," said Bill Groenveld, head trader for vFinance Investments. "But look at how we've held in despite all this stuff. We got a strong market once you move these things out of the way."
At 1 p.m., the Dow Jones industrial average was up 98.67 points, or 1 percent, to 9,848.66.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 10.54, or 1 percent, at 1,105.35, and the Nasdaq composite index edged 4.68 higher at 1,918.72.
Investors hoped the insurance sector would get a boost after Marsh & McLennan Cos. replaced its chief executive and announced a series of reforms in hopes of appeasing Spitzer. Marsh & McLennan climbed $2.18 to $28.60.
American International Group, the No. 1 insurer, added $2.63 to $58.73. MetLife Inc., the second-largest U.S. life insurer, gained 79 cents to $35.85. Aetna Inc., the No. 3 U.S. health insurer, advanced $3.53 to $88.34.
DuPont fell 84 cents to $41.34 although the chemical company swung to a profit in the third quarter despite higher raw materials costs.
Lockheed Martin said its growing information technology business helped offset a slumping space division and helped the company post a 41 percent jump in earnings. Lockheed Martin gained 60 cents to $54.10.
General Electric backed Wall Street's view of its fourth-quarter and full-year profit forecasts, citing strength across the conglomerate's various divisions. GE rose 40 cents to $33.30.
Halliburton gained 94 cents to $35.29 even as the company swung to a loss, weighed down by continued asbestos claims settlements. Without the one-time losses, the company would have exceeded profit forecasts by 6 cents per share.
Delta Air Lines rose 87 cents to $4.65 after the airline, seeking to avert a bankruptcy filing, got $600 million in new financing and postponed a debt repayment of $135 million for two years.
Apollo Group tumbled $3.94 to $67.01. The largest U.S. for-profit education company is "under consultation" by staff in the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Mark Marostica, a Piper Jaffray analyst, wrote in a report.
U.S. Steel Corp. returned to profitability in the third quarter, blowing past Wall Street profit forecasts by 58 cents per share thanks to higher demand. The company also said it expects a strong fourth quarter. U.S. Steel was up 92 cents at $36.77.
Silicon Laboratories plunged $6.82, or 20 percent, to $27.62. The maker of chips used in satellite radios and mobile phones said fourth-quarter revenue will be $93 million to $97 million, less than the $125.2 million expected on average by analysts in a Thomson survey.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by nearly 7 to 5 on the New York Stock Exchange.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was down 0.34, or 0.06 percent, at 571.33.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.12 percent. In afternoon trading in Europe, France's CAC-40 climbed 0.29 percent, Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.41 percent, and Germany's DAX index gained 0.20 percent.