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Wall Street: Stocks jump in early afternoon trading

The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted its biggest advance in eight weeks Monday afternoon as equities extended quarterly gains amid corporate mergers and optimism central banks will support global growth.

Exxon Mobil Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. added more than 2 percent as oil companies and banks rallied. Catamaran Corp. jumped 24 percent after UnitedHealth Group Inc. agreed to buy it. Horizon Pharma Plc rose 15 percent after saying it will acquire Hyperion Therapeutics Inc. A Standard & Poor’s index of homebuilders climbed after pending home sales in February rose more than forecast.

The Dow climbed 286.04 points, or 1.6 percent, to 17,998.70 at 1:09 p.m. in New York, on track for its best gain since Feb. 3. The S&P 500 Index advanced 1.2 percent to 2,086.45. The gauge is up 1.3 percent in the first quarter, maintaining its longest streak of quarterly gains since 1998. The Nasdaq Composite Index increased 1 percent.

“Stocks are being driven in the short-term by the potential for Chinese quantitative easing that they hinted at over the weekend, as well as the mergers and buyouts happening in the equity market,” Andrew Brenner, the head of international fixed income for National Alliance Capital Markets, said by phone.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Friday that the central bank will probably raise rates this year, with subsequent increases taking place gradually, without following a predictable path. China’s central bank chief said the government can do more to support growth in the world’s second-largest economy.