(Updates with official closing numbers, adds details, quotes)
TORONTO, March 24 (Reuters) - Rallying financial issues helped pull the Toronto Stock Exchange's main index strongly higher on Monday, amid increased confidence in the value of bank stocks and a rush of bargain-hunting.
A sweetened bid for U.S. bank Bear Stearns Cos BSC.N from JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) improved sentiment for the financial sector as investors scooped up bank stocks that had been beaten down by fallout from the credit crisis and fears of more difficulties to come.
The sector as a whole gained 3 percent after JPMorgan raised its Bear Stearns bid to about $10 a share from the $2 a share it had originally offered.
Elvis Picardo, investment strategist at Northern Securities Inc. in Vancouver, said the move was a positive step for the banking sector and helped ease concerns that financial stocks on both sides of the border were overvalued.
"Just the fact that JPMorgan has seen fit to quadruple the bid provides some comfort to investors that the degree of overvaluation may not be that huge for the financial services industry," said Picardo.
The S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE closed up 244.08 points, or 1.91 percent, at 13,019.72 with all of its 10 main sectors higher.
Stronger resource issues also helped lift the benchmark, as the sector bounced back from sharp declines last week amid a selloff in commodities.
In the resource-laden materials group, Potash Corp of Saskatchewan (POT.TO) surged C$6.44, or 4.4 percent, to C$154.01 and Inmet Mining IMN.TO was up C$1.28, or 1.7 percent, at C$76.60. Overall, the group was up 0.7 percent.
The energy sector gained 0.8 percent, with Petro-Canada PCA.TO up 64 Canadian cents, or 1.5 percent, at C$43.41 and Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO) ahead 84 Canadian cents, or 1.3 percent, at C$67.25.
On the downside, the subindex of gold producers gave up 1.6 percent with the price of bullion lower. Agnico-Eagle Mines (AEM.TO) was off C$1.64, or 2.4 percent, to C$67.44 and Kinross Gold (K.TO) dipped 89 Canadian cents, or 4 percent, to C$21.48.
$1=$1.02 Canadian Reporting by Leah Schnurr; editing by Rob Wilson