The stock market gained ground with a roar Wednesday as the price of oil steadied near six-year lows and a report showed that U.S. businesses hired more workers. European markets climbed after weak inflation figures for the region raised speculation of further help from the European Central Bank.
KEEPING SCORE: At the close on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 212.88 points, or 1.23 percent, at 17,584.52. The Standard & Poor's 500 index had gained 23.29 points, or nearly 1.2 percent, to nearly 2,026. The Nasdaq composite had added 57.73 points, or nearly 1.3 percent, to 4,650.47.
ECONOMY WATCH: U.S. businesses increased hiring last month in the latest sign that the U.S. economy is on steady footing. The payroll processor ADP reported that companies added 241,000 workers in December, up from 227,000 in November.
ONE VIEW: "It's a bit of a bounce," said Jeff Kravetz, regional investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. "Some of it is from the ADP report, but it's also a matter of the market getting oversold over the last few days."
Despite turbulent trading over recent weeks, Kravetz expects 2015 to be another solid year for the stock market.
"We're telling our clients not to get caught up in this short-term volatility. Look at the fundamentals: the job market, corporate balance sheets, economic growth. They're very good."
THE FED SPEAKS: Markets didn't react much to the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's December policy meeting. Fed officials discussed various risks to the economy, but concluded that the recent big drop in oil prices was likely to end up boosting growth.
CRUDE IN THE ROUGH: The price of oil stabilized near a six-year low. U.S. crude oil rose 54 cents to $48.49 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude has fallen by more than half since June as supplies rose. Lower energy costs are a boon to consumers and businesses, but some see the plunge as a worrying sign of weakness in the global economy.
MOVING: J.C. Penney soared $1.33, or 20.3 percent, to close at $7.89 after the beleaguered retail store posted solid sales late Tuesday. For the nine-week holiday shopping season, the company reported sales growth of 3.7 percent over the same period in 2013.
BETTER, BUT: Eli Lilly predicted higher revenue and earnings this year as it tries to recover from the loss of patents protecting key drugs. But the forecast fell short of Wall Street's expectations. The company's stock fell 49 cents, or 0.7 percent, to close at $69.23.