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Stocks up strongly in rebound from 3-week slump

Stocks headed up sharply Monday, March 16, 2015,

Stocks headed up sharply Monday, March 16, 2015, after a week of more losses than gains. This is the main thoroughfare of the New York Financial District on March 11, 2015. Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

Stocks rose on Monday, led by health care and utilities companies, rebounding after three weeks of losses.

In midafternoon trading on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 208 points, about 1.2 percent, at 17,957.4. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 24.1 points, about 1.2 percent, to nearly 2,77.8. The Nasdaq composite added 53 points, about 1.1 percent, to 4,924.6.

Energy stocks dropped as oil slumped to a six-year low. Stocks also got a lift as the dollar's surge against the euro abated.

Investors will be focusing on the Federal Reserve this week. Policymakers begin a two-day meeting Tuesday and may signal that they are considering raising interest rates for the first time in almost a decade.

FED IN FOCUS: Investors' focus for much of the early part of this week will be the Fed. Policymakers start a two-day meeting Tuesday and many expect the U.S. central bank will signal in a statement after the meeting that they are considering raising interest rates later this year.

Policymakers have said they would be "patient" when it came to raising interest rates. Investors are watching to see if the Fed removes that word from its next statement.

The Fed has kept its benchmark lending rate near zero for more than six years, underpinning a strong rally in U.S. stocks.

ENERGY: Oil fell sharply amid ongoing concerns that supply is exceeding demand. Benchmark U.S. crude dropped $1.42 to $44.84 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, its lowest level in six years. Brent crude, the international benchmark, declined $1.78 to $53.21 a barrel in London.

THE ECONOMY: Investors got some mixed news on the economy. U.S. industrial production edged up slightly in February, as a big surge by utilities due to a cold winter offset a third straight decline in factory output. The Federal Reserve says that overall industrial production rose 0.1 percent in February following a 0.3 percent fall in January.

A different report showed that U.S. home builders are feeling slightly less confident in their sales prospects, even as their overall sales outlook remains favorable.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index slipped this month to 53, down two points from 55 in February. It's the third monthly decline in a row for the index.

THE QUOTE: "What people will be paying attention to is the Fed meeting on Wednesday," said analyst Randy Frederick, a managing director of trading and derivatives with the Schwab Center for Financial Research. "The Fed is always a catalyst (for the market), the question is whether it's going to be a catalyst to the upside or the downside."

THE SECTORS: Utilities were among the biggest gainers of the 10 sectors that make up the S&P 500. The dividend-rich stocks rose as bond yields dropped in response to mixed economic data. Lower bond yields make stocks that pay big dividends comparatively more attractive.

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