Dow Climbs to Highest Level Since July; BofA Soars

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The blue chips climbed on Tuesday to the highest level since July 26, led by Bank of America shares, which zoomed higher by close to 6%.

Today's Markets

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 70 points, or 0.56%, to 12462, the S&P 500 gained 11.4 points, or 0.89%, to 1292 and the Nasdaq Composite gained 25.9 points, or 0.97%, to 2703.

The broader S&P 500 also rose to its highest level since July, while the Nasdaq closed in the green for the fourth-straight session.

BofA has had a solid year thus far after plunging more than 50% last year. America's second-largest bank by assets led the Dow higher on Tuesday, followed by machinery giant Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), United Technologies (NYSE:UTX) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), all of which were up more than 2% on the day.

Banks performed well overall, with Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) and Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) rallying on the day as well.

Meanwhile, Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) and General Electric (NYSE:GE) were the Dow's biggest laggards, each slipping by less than a percent.

Alcoa (NYSE:AA), also a blue chip, kicked off earnings season after the closing bell on Monday. The aluminum giant posted a quarterly loss of 3 cents per share, which came in-line with analysts' expectations, but its revenue of $6 billion topped forecasts of $5.7 billion. The company also said it expects demand for aluminum to increase by 7% this year.

This helped boost mining stocks and expectations about corporate earnings in light of growing headwinds from Europe. Indeed,  Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE:FCX), the world's biggest publicly traded copper company, charged 4% higher on the day.

Market participants also cited a slew of news from overseas as having fueled Tuesday's rally.

China's imports grew at a rate of 11.8% in December, much slower than the 18% pace economists' projected, and just slightly more than half of the 22.1% it hit in November. The data highlight increasing concerns that the world's second-biggest economy is slowing down. However, the particularly weak data stoked anticipation that Beijing may enact a more accommodative monetary policy to boost growth, which traders say could be a positive development for equities.

In Europe, France's industrial production rose by 1.1%, zipping by estimates of a 0.2% fall. France is the continent's second-biggest economy and worries about its weakening economy have been partially to blame for speculation that it may lose its pristine 'AAA' credit rating.

Separately, ratings company Fitch said it doesn't expect to downgrade the country this year barring a "strong worsening" of the situation in the euro zone, AFP quoted a spokesperson as saying.

However, the situation in the euro zone remains fragile. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Monday Greece needs to reach a deal with private debt holders to cut its debt before the European Union and International Monetary Fund will pay the country's next aid tranche. Meanwhile, Italy's 10-year note recently yielded 7.17% -- a painfully-high level.

The euro climbed 0.08% to $1.2776, while European blue chips soared 2.7%. The U.S. dollar fell 0.14% against a basket of six world currencies.

Energy futures rose on the day, tracking strength in equity markets, a weaker dollar and continued worries about tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York jumped 93 cents, or 0.92%, to $102.24 a barrel. Wholesale RBOB gasoline rose 0.5% to $2.773 a gallon.

In metals, gold climbed $23.50, or 1.5%, to $1,631 a troy ounce. Traders sold U.S. The benchmark 10-year Treasury note recently yielded 1.979% from 1.975%.

Foreign Markets

European blue chips jumped 2.7%, the English FTSE 100 rose 1.5% to 5,697 and the German DAX rallied 2.7% to 6,163.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 climbed 0.38% to 8,422 and the Chinese Hang Seng gained 1.1% to 4,152.