Stocks close higher despite looming budget cuts

An encouraging manufacturing report nudged stocks higher, even as a deadline to avoid sweeping US spending cuts loomed. The Institute for Supply Management said its index reached 54.2, up from January’s of 53.1. Any reading above 50 signals growth. President Obama met with congressional leaders in a bid to avert the $85 billion in spending cuts that were set to kick in Friday. Some analysts said any sort of deal could drive up the market next week. Oil and gas companies fell as the price of crude sank to its lowest level of the year. Halliburton and Peabody Energy were among the biggest losers. Crude fell below $91 a barrel.