U.S. stocks advance amid optimism for more stimulus from ECB

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - U.S. stocks rose, with the Standard & Poor's 500 Index climbing from a 21-month low, following a volatile hour for equity futures amid comments from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi after the bank left interest rates unchanged.

The S&P 500 rose 0.3 per cent to 1,864.79 at 9:35 a.m. in New York, after slumping 1.2 per cent on Thursday to the lowest since April 2014.

"I think people are starting to believe that while we may not be at an absolute bottom, we may be close," said Peter Jankovskis, who helps oversee $1.9 billion as co-chief investment officer of Lisle, Illinois-based OakBrook Investments. "Oil has been a very strong theme, though I think certainly in months that are heavy in central bank decisions that central bank activity has to a degree overwhelmed oil."

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 3.28 points, or 0.02 per cent, at 15,763.46. The Nasdaq Composite index was up 5.34 points, or 0.12 per cent, at 4,477.03

Equity futures earlier surged after the ECB's Draghi said during a press conference that downside risks to the euro-area economy have increased since the year began, and the central bank may need to bolster its stimulus programs as soon as March amid rising concerns about the recovery. Futures pared gains after he said the central bank's mandate doesn't include protecting bank profits.

Oil's crash, amid a Chinese economic slowdown that's throwing international markets into turmoil, has raised concern that record-low rates and a 1.5 trillion-euro ($1.6 trillion) bond-buying program may not be enough bring inflation back to just under 2 percent from current levels near zero.

Global equities' downward spiral at the start of the year got even worse as oil continued a plunge and a slowdown in China weighed on sentiment, wiping about $2.2 trillion off the value of U.S. stocks. Investors from Japan to Germany and Brazil have watched their stock markets tumble into bear territory. The S&P 500 has fallen 9 percent year to date through Wednesday, triggering a technical signal that indicates it's oversold.