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An increase in consumer spending also helped push stocks higher. The government reported that spending rose 0.8 percent in July. It was a sharp turnaround from June, when Americans cut spending 0.1 percent, the first decline in 20 months.

Volume was low as transit disruptions made it difficult for Wall Street employees to get to work. Flooding and downed trees obstructed tracks throughout the commuter rail systems that bring workers in from the Connecticut, New York and New Jersey suburbs.

About 3.6 billion shares traded hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the lowest since July 26. The average this year is 4.4 billion shares.

Many traders are on vacation the last week before the Labor Day holiday.

European stocks jumped after two Greek banks said they would combine to better weather that country’s debt crisis. Greece’s Athex Composite index jumped 14.4 percent after the country’s second- and third-largest lenders agreed to combine, creating the country’s largest bank. Greece’s government and central bank have been urging banks to merge, saying it would help them survive.

Stocks worldwide plunged in late July and early August, partly because of worries about Europe’s escalating debt problems. Greece has narrowly avoided bankruptcy twice thanks to emergency loans from the International Monetary Fund and other European countries.

Associated Press writer Verena Dobnik in New York contributed to this report.