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S&P 500 Rises Most Since ’97 as Bernanke Helps Offset Europe

U.S. stocks are off to the best start in 15 years as investors speculate Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has done enough to insulate the economy from Europe’s debt crisis.

The S&P 500 has gained 4.5 percent, the most since it rose 4.8 percent over the first 12 days in 1997, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Stocks are overcoming earnings that trailed estimates by the widest margin in three years as improvements in hiring, manufacturing and car sales extend the biggest fourth-quarter advance since 2003.