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As budget standoff eases, Dow rises

Investors embraced signs of a political compromise that could avert a default on government debt, sending stocks surging Thursday.

Yet Wall Street’s relief was tempered by the realization that a fiscal deal was not yet at hand.

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A Republican proposal to push the debt deadline facing the government off for six weeks sent stocks to their biggest gains since January. The mood was diminished after the market closed when the White House signaled that it was not prepared to sign off on the deal, although it pledged to keep talking.

In the futures markets, which are open after stocks stop trading, US stock index futures were slightly lower. The price of oil, which had risen earlier in the day, fell modestly in the evening. Wall Street will remain focused on any indications of progress in the talks. Investors fear that the Treasury Department will miss payments on some of its debt after hitting its borrowing limit later this month. Markets showed some skepticism about the offer of a six-week reprieve on the debt ceiling, as Treasury bills that come due after Nov. 22 — when the Republican plan would end — fell in value.

“The political situation has gone from horrible to bad, but we’re still a long way from a constructive resolution,” said Michael Purves, chief global strategist at Weeden & Co.

Still, the biggest threat hanging over the markets — a government default — appeared to ease after Speaker John Boehner said that House Republicans were willing to raise the debt ceiling until Nov. 22 if Democrats opened negotiations on a longer-term budget deal.

After that news, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index climbed to end the day up 2.18 percent, or 36.16 points, at 1,692.56. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 2.18 percent, or 323.09 points, to 15,126.07, while the Nasdaq composite index jumped 2.26 percent, or 82.97 points, to 3,760.75.

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Thursday’s gains helped make up nearly half of the losses stocks have suffered in recent days as the debt ceiling neared. But the progress of a debt limit agreement became less certain when President Obama declined to immediately endorse it Thursday evening.

Wall Street never went into full panic mode about a potential default. Most strategists predicted that Republicans would be forced to compromise before the Treasury ran out of money.

In recent days, though, investors did begin to prepare for the possibility that the government might delay some payments on short-term government debt in the days after hitting the debt ceiling.

The pessimism was evident in money market funds, the popular mutual funds that invest in short-term debt.

Over the last week, institutions sold $20 billion of money market funds that specialize in government debt, 2.5 percent of the total money in the funds, according to figures out Thursday from the Investment Company Institute. Money market funds and banks, in turn, were dumping short-term government debt, known as Treasury bills, set to come due in October and November.

On Thursday, those bills were popular again, but debt coming due after Nov. 22 fell out of favor and dropped in value. “The relief is only a repositioning of risk a few weeks out,” said Adrian Miller, the director of fixed-income strategy at GMP Securities. “It’s another can-kicking episode.”

Elsewhere in the market for government bonds, the price of the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell 6/32, to 98 14/32, and its yield rose to 2.68 percent, from 2.66 percent late Wednesday

The price of insuring against losses on US government debt fell only slightly Thursday and was still almost twice as expensive as it was in early September.

The weekly data on new unemployment claims was released Thursday, and it showed new claims jumping 66,000 from a week earlier. Some of this was because of distortions in the data, but the figures still left economists anxious.

“It suggests that payroll growth after the shutdown might not strengthen as much as we had been hoping,” Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote to clients.

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