Markets enjoyed a much-needed reprieve from the downward tailspin they suffered last week, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) lost more than 2% in five days. The Dow jumped more than 95 points, or 0.72%, to close at 13,424 for the day.
Cheering up Wall Street were good data from the Commerce Department, reporting higher-than-expected retail numbers in September. Core retail sales -- which don't include automobile sales, gasoline figures, or construction materials -- rose 0.9% last month; some economists had been expecting growth of just 0.3%.
"A rising tide lifts all boats," as the saying goes; 25 of the 30 Dow components closed in the black.
Financials were some of the biggest winners of the day, as Citigroup (NYSE: C ) , which is not in the Dow, was the top performer in the S&P 500, gaining 5.5% because of its impressive quarterly earnings report.
Consequently, Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) led the Dow with a 3.4% gain for the day, as investors hope for more good news from financials ahead of the banking giant's earnings call on Wednesday morning. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) advanced as well, gaining more than 1.8%.
Investors were generally unconcerned by data from China that seemed to indicate the Chinese government is unlikely to institute "loosening" efforts to help boost economic growth. Most Asian shares were down slightly on the news.
Health care was the other sector leading the bull market today; Merck (NYSE: MRK ) was the second-strongest performer in the Dow, tacking on nearly 2.2% while shares in Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY ) and Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT ) both climbed more than 4% on positive late-stage drug results. Abbott's oral hepatitis C drug suppressed the virus in most patients in a trial experiment. If approved, the final version of the medicine could clear more than $2 billion per year in additional revenues, starting in 2015. But it was Merck's successful results from its phase 2 osteoporosis drug in particular that sent the pharmaceutical company soaring.
AT&T (NYSE: T ) continued its sell-off, losing more than 1% as a result of rival Sprint Nextel's (NYSE: S ) proposed acquisition by Softbank.
There's much more news to come this week, as a slew of earnings reports will determine which way the Dow heads next.
Many investors are scared about investing in big banking stocks after the crash, but the sector has one notable, definitive standout. In a sea of mismanaged and dangerous peers, it shines as The Only Big Bank Built To Last. You can uncover the top pick that both we and Warren Buffett love today in our new report. It's free, so click here to access it now.