* Chevron, Exxon rise on higher oil prices
* Three big U.S. banks to report results on Thursday
* Amazon gains after Needham upgrades to “buy”
* Indexes up: Dow 0.41 pct, S&P 0.37 pct, Nasdaq 0.38 pct (Adds details, comments, updates prices)
By Yashaswini Swamynathan
April 10 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were set to gain the most in nearly two weeks late-Monday morning as higher oil prices lifted energy stocks, while investors braced for big banks to kick off the first-quarter earnings season later in the week.
JPMorgan, Citigroup and Wells Fargo are scheduled to report earnings on Thursday and could throw some light on the U.S. banking industry’s performance amid a rally in financial shares since the election of President Donald Trump.
Oil prices rose more than 1 percent, with U.S. crude hitting a more than one-month high, supported by a Libyan oilfield shutdown, tension over a U.S. missile strike on Syria and signs that an OPEC-led output cut is helping to clear excess supplies.
Investors are keenly watching the quarterly earnings to justify lofty market valuations, following the post-election rally sparked off by bets that Trump would introduce pro-growth policies.
Earnings of S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 10.1 percent in the first three months of the year, the most since the fourth-quarter of 2014. The index is currently trading at 17.4 times forward earnings estimates, above its long-term average of 15, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
“The financial sector has been a darling performer since the election and we’ve seen some of that performance retreat in the last couple of weeks,” said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis.
“So what the banks report and what their guidance is will be the primary driver for equity prices over the next week or two.”
Thursday will be the last trading day of the week on Wall Street ahead of the Good Friday holiday.
At 10:55 a.m. ET (1455 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 84.2 points, or 0.41 percent, at 20,740.3, the S&P 500 was up 8.75 points, or 0.37 percent, at 2,364.29 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 22.63 points, or 0.38 percent, at 5,900.44.
All the 11 major S&P sectors were higher, led by a 1.1 percent gain in energy. Chevron was up 1 percent while Exxon gained 0.6 percent.
A raft of deals also lifted sentiment. Shares of Straight Path Communications surged nearly two-fold to $90 after AT&T offered a huge premium to buy the owner of wireless spectrum licenses. The deal also lifted shares of other communications companies.
Swift Transportation jumped 23 percent to $24.64 after agreeing to a merger with fellow trucking company Knight Transportation. Knight’s shares were up 13.5 percent at $34.75.
Amazon.com was the top stock on the S&P and the Nasdaq, rising 1.3 percent to $906.73. The world’s largest online retailer was upgraded to “buy” at Needham, according to a trader.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,122 to 641. On the Nasdaq, 1,743 shares rose and 866 fell.
The S&P 500 index showed seven 52-week highs and two lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 51 highs and 17 lows. (Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)