Markets rebound, stabilize a day after biggest 2012 loss

The stock market reclaimed some losses from its biggest dive this year and returned Wednesday to its pattern of steady gains and stable trading. Reassuring reports on productivity and hiring overshadowed worries about the Greek debt crisis.

Stock indexes made solid gains by mid-morning after the government said oil refineries are operating at a faster clip than economists had expected. Oil refiners Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Inc. were among the biggest gainers in the Standard & Poor’s 500.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 78.18 points, or 0.6 percent, at 12,837.33. The S&P 500 index gained 9.27, or 0.7 percent, to close at 1,352.63. The Nasdaq composite index added 25.37, or 0.9 percent, to close at 2,935.69.

The Dow dived 203 points on Tuesday, the biggest hitch in a strong rally for stocks this year. Many market-watchers believe that stocks had risen too quickly and were due for a setback.

“You wouldn’t expect to get it all back in one day,” said Jerry Webman, chief economist at OppenheimerFunds Inc.

The average has gained more than 20 percent since last Oct. 3, and the rally has proved resilient. Tuesday was the eighth time during the stretch that the Dow fell more than 200 points. Each previous time it made up most or all of its losses within days.

Tuesday’s selloff was triggered by fears that not enough private investors would sign on to exchange their Greek government bonds for replacements with a lower face value and interest rate.

A closely watched private estimate of hiring also exceeded economists’ expectations. Payroll processor ADP said employers added 216,000 jobs last month. The result lifted hopes about the big February jobs report, which comes out Friday. 

Jurors deciding how much of financier’s funds to seize

HOUSTON – A criminal forfeiture proceeding to decide if federal authorities will be able to seize $330 million from nearly 30 accounts controlled by convicted Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford and others has wrapped up.

Prosecutors concluded their case Wednesday in Houston federal court after presenting testimony from a U.S. postal inspector who told jurors that some of the billions of dollars Stanford took from investors were put into two homes for a girlfriend and an account she controlled dubbed “Baby Mama Trust.”

Stanford’s attorneys did not present any witnesses.

The same jury that convicted Stanford on Tuesday after a more-than-six-week trial will now decide if these accounts contain criminal proceeds from the financier’s scheme. 

Natural-gas surplus leads to lowest price in a decade

NEW YORK – The price of natural gas dropped to the lowest level in a decade as the mild winter comes to a close with a huge surplus of the fuel on hand.

Natural gas supplies typically shrink in the winter as homes and business crank up the heat. But relatively warm weather, combined with a boom in production, has left storage facilities bloated with gas.

Natural gas futures fell by 5.4 cents Wednesday to $2.302 per 1,000 cubic feet in New York. That’s the lowest price since Feb. 15, 2002.