NEW YORK (AP) -- After an indecisive day, stocks turned around in the last minutes of trading Monday and managed to end with modest gains.
Last week the market had its worst drop since mid-August, and for much of the day it looked like the losses would continue. Near midday the Standard & Poor's 500 index hit a two-month low. But oil prices recovered from last week's rout and the broader market rose over the last hour of trading, finishing at its highest levels of the day.
The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 103.29 points, or 0.6 percent, to 17,358.50. The S&P 500 index gained 9.57 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,021.94. Nine of the 10 sectors on the S&P 500 finished higher, though most of the gains were small. The Nasdaq composite index added 18.76 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,952.23.
Early in the day the price of oil fell below $35 a barrel for the first time since early 2009. However oil recovered and rose about 2 percent, breaking a streak of six straight losses.
U.S. crude gained 69 cents at $36.31 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, fell a penny to $37.92 a barrel in London.
The gain sent oil companies broadly higher. Exxon Mobil rose $1.69, or 2.3 percent, to $76.03 and Chevron added $2.89, or 3.3 percent, to $89.33.
Consumer products maker Jarden Brands agreed to be acquired by competitor Newell Rubbermaid. The cash and stock deal would create a conglomerate that owns brands like Paper Mate, Sharpie, Elmer's, Rubbermaid and Calphalon.
The deal is worth at least $13.2 billion, or $60 per share. Jarden stock added $1.41, or 2.7 percent, to $54.09. Newell Rubbermaid shares fell $3.13, or 6.9 percent, to $42.15.
Natural gas prices plunged to the lowest level since September 2001 as warm weather continues to erode demand for home heating. The falling price hurt natural gas companies. Range Resources sank 89 cents, or 3.9 percent, to $21.86 and Southwestern Energy slumped 57 cents, or 9.7 percent, to $5.33.
Natural gas fell 9.6 cents, or 4.8 percent, to $1.894 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Stephen Schork, an independent analyst and trader, said industrial demand for natural gas in the U.S. and from Canada has tumbled. That means the biggest remaining source of demand is for consumers who use gas to heat their homes. But it's been a very warm winter so far.
"This weather's going to persist through the rest of this month," Schork said. However he said prices will recover if it gets colder in January.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline declined 2.6 cents, or 2 percent, to $1.256 a gallon and heating oil lost 1.8 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $1.128 a gallon.
Activist investor Daniel Loeb is challenging the combination of chemicals makers DuPont and Dow Chemical, announced on Friday. Loeb, who owns a stake in Dow Chemical, questioned the timing of the deal and wants Dow CEO Andrew Liveris removed. Dow's board says it stands by the proposal.
On Friday Dow and DuPont agreed to combine into a $130 billion company and then split up into three smaller businesses. Loeb has pushed Dow to split its specialty chemical and petrochemical businesses. Another activist investor, Nelson Peltz, has been pushing DuPont to break itself up.
Dow Chemical lost $2.08, or 3.9 percent, to $51.29 and DuPont slid $2.52, or 3.6 percent, to $67.92.
Mining companies and industrial materials makers slumped, with Dow and DuPont leading the way. Copper miner Freeport-McMoRan dropped as copper prices continued to slide. Freeport shares skidded 44 cents, or 6.4 percent, to $6.46.
Gold sank $12.30, or 1.1 percent, to $1,063.40 an ounce. Silver declined 18.9 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $13.70 an ounce. The price of copper fell 0.5 cents to $2.11 a pound.
The Federal Reserve will start its last meeting of the year on Tuesday, and on Wednesday it's expected to raise interest rates for the first time in almost a decade. The Fed's key short-term interest rate has been close to zero since Dec. 16, 2008. The boost in rates would be a sign of confidence in the U.S. economy, but some investors worry that it will slow down growth.
Phil Orlando, chief equity strategist for Federated Investors, said the Federal Reserve is reacting to positive signs like increased hiring and economic growth. While inflation is lower than the Fed would like, Orlando said the Fed won't wait for inflation to rise further because it will take a long time before the economy feels the full effect of higher interest rates.
"The Fed can't wait," he said. "It'll be 18 months before that change in policy hits the economy," he said.
Orlando also thinks the boost in interest rates will set off a rally that will take stocks higher for the rest of the year, possibly back to the record levels they set in May. Stocks have wobbled in recent weeks. It's been more than a month since the S&P 500 rose for two consecutive days.
Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.22 percent from 2.13 percent. The dollar rose to 120.87 yen from 120.77 yen Friday. The euro was unchanged at $1.0993.