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Insurers drive stocks higher; Dow up 254

So much for Irene. Stocks rose broadly Monday, led by insurance companies, after it became clear that the storm caused far less damage than many had feared. The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 254 points.

Trading volume was the lowest since July 26 as many traders struggled to get to work in Lower Manhattan or were still on vacation.

Utilities companies also rose after it became clear their storm-related expenses would be lower than earlier estimates.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 2.26 percent, to close at 11,539.25. It is now down just 0.3 percent for the year. It had been down as much as 7.4 percent for the year on Aug. 10.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 33.28 points, or 2.83 percent, to 1,210.08. It has now gained back all of the ground it lost since hitting a 2011 low on Aug. 8, after Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. government's credit rating. Since then it has risen 8.1 percent.

The technology-focused Nasdaq composite index rose 82.26, or 3.32 percent, to 2,562.11.

European stocks jumped after two Greek banks said they would combine to better weather that country's debt crisis. Greek stocks rose 14 percent after the country's second- and third-largest lenders agreed to combine, creating the country's largest bank. Greece's government and central bank have been urging banks to merge to help them survive the country's debt crisis. -- AP

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