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Mergers and acquisitions activity and upbeat private sector employment data gave the markets a boost.

Today's Markets

As of 3:05 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 92.8 points, or 0.76%, to 12,372, the S&P 500 climbed 10.4 points, or 0.79%, to 1,330 and the Nasdaq Composite gained 20.4 points, or 0.74%, to 2,777. The FOX 50 was up 8.5 points to 934.

The blue chips rallied on Tuesday, and have bounced back 5.7% from lows on March 16. Economic data released this week have been mixed, showing improvement in economic growth, but weakness in the housing sector.

Planned layoffs dropped 18% to 41,528 in March, according to a report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. The government laid off 19,099 workers -- the most layoffs of any sector.

Private sector employment jumped by 201,000 in March, mostly inline with economists' expectation of an increase of 203,000, according to a report by payroll firm ADP.

"This is a strong report that indicates continued momentum in the pace of labor market recovery," wrote Nicholas Tenev, an economist at Barclays Capital, in a research note.

Mergers and acquisitions activity continues picking up speed. Valeant Pharmaceuticals (NYSE:VRX), Canada's largest drug-maker, made a $5.7 billion hostile bid for Cephalon (NASDAQ:CEPH), boosting shares of both companies. General Electric (NYSE:GE) announced plans to acquire Converteam for $3.2 billion on Tuesday.

The Labor Department's report on the employment situation is slated for release on Friday.  The report is widely considered to be an important gauge of the condition of U.S. labor market.  The jobs market has shown modest recovery, with the unemployment rate edging lower to 8.9% in February -- far off the January 2010 peak of 10.6%.

Oil initially traded sharply lower on bearish inventory news and a strengthening U.S. dollar, but has since shed most of its losses.

Light, sweet crude ended the session lower by 52 cents, or 0.5%, to $104.27.  Gas prices at the consumer level continue climbing.  A gallon of regular gas cost $3.60 on average nationwide, up from $3.37 last month and $2.80 last year.

Crude stocks were up 2.95 million barrels in the prior week -- far more than the 1.8 million barrel build analysts forecast -- according to the Energy Department.

The unrest in Libya and the Middle East has also driven the energy markets in recent weeks.  A coalition of forces including NATO has continued striking Muammar al-Qaddafi's military, but Qaddafi has countered.  Despite the turmoil there, analysts are optimistic that Libya, an OPEC member, will be able to get oil production back online within 12-18 months.

The situation in Syria remained tense after security forces fired at protesters in Latakia, according to The Associated Press, citing witnesses.  Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose family has been in power for 40 years, has made largely symbolic concessions, and blamed foreign "conspirators," not internal strife, for igniting the protests.

Currencies have gyrated amid headlines about Portugal's financial and political volatility.  The European-Union-member's cost of borrowing has skyrocketed, increasing the chances the country will need a bailout from the EU, ratings agencies say.  The euro gained 0.06% against the U.S. dollar.

Gold climbed $7.40, or 0.52%, to $1,425 a troy ounce.

Corporate News

Nasdaq OMX Group’s (NASDAQ:NDAQ) cyber security breach last year is being investigated by the National Security Agency amid signs the attack may have been more serve than previously disclosed, Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek reported.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over privacy concerns related to its Buzz social media product.  The search giant agreed to conducting independent privacy reviews for the next 20 years.

News Corporation (NYSE:NWS) promoted James Murdoch to the role chairman and chief executive officer of its international division.

Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) was given a "neutral" rating by Sterne Agee, with a price target of $15.00 a share, only slightly above its current trading price.

Family Dollar Stores (NYSE:FDO) revealed second-fiscal quarter profits of 98 cents a share, narrowly besting analysts' calls for 97 cents.

Jos A Bank (NASDAQ:JOSB) earned $1.47 a share in its fiscal-fourth quarter, well higher than the $1.43 Wall Street had forecast.

Foreign Markets

Global shares rallied on optimism economic recovery is gaining traction across the world.

The English FTSE 100 was up 0.27% to 5,948, the French CAC 40 jumped 0.92% to 4,024 and the German DAX traded higher by 1.8% to 7,057.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 soared 2.6% to 9,709 and the Chinese Hang Seng gained 1.7% to 23,451.

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