US markets open higher after three weeks of losses; Gains are led by health care stocks

Energy Associated Press

U.S. stocks opened higher Monday, led by health care and utilities companies, rebounding after three weeks of losses. 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.

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KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 17 points, or 0.9 percent, 2,070 as of 9:57 a.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 167 points, or 0.9 percent, to 17,916. The Nasdaq composite climbed 33 points, or 0.7 percent, 4,905.

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.

INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION: 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.

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The Federal Reserve says that overall industrial production rose 0.1 percent in February following a 0.3 percent fall in January. Manufacturing growth has slowed over the past six months. U.S. producers have had to contend with a rising dollar, which makes their goods more expensive in foreign markets.

THE QUOTE: The Fed meeting will "undoubtedly" be the week's highlight for investors, Michael Every, head of Asia-Pacific financial market research at Rabobank, wrote in a commentary. "We might well say goodbye to the key term 'patience,' which has become a rolling rule of thumb for 'a few more months.' In other words, March could officially open the door to a potential June rate hike."

EUROPE'S DAY: Germany's DAX rose 1.5 percent to 12,036.12, the first time it has traded above 12,000. France's CAC 40 rose 0.6 percent to 5,038, while Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.5 percent to 6,771. European stocks have surged this year after the European Central Bank announced that it would introduce more stimulus to revive the region's slumping economy.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.19 to $43.62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after falling earlier to its lowest level in six years. The contract fell $2.21 to close at $44.84 a barrel on Friday. Brent crude, the international benchmark, dropped $1.36 to $53.66 a barrel in London.

BONDS: In bond trading, prices rose slightly. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note dropped to 2.07 percent from 2.12 percent on Friday.

CURRENCIES: The euro strengthened to $1.0609 from $1.0497 Friday. The dollar weakened to 121.16 yen from 121.40 yen.