Dow Leaps Over 13000, Now What?

The Dow had flirted with 13000 for days, finally sealing the deal Tuesday, when it closed above that level for the first time since four months before Lehman Brothers crashed back in 2008. A nice gain by Johnson & Johnson helped fuel the advance.

The Nasdaq also tacked on more than 20 points Tuesday, closing at 2988, the highest level since the year 2000 as the tech-heavy index pushes toward the 3000 level.

Both indices are looking modestly higher Wednesday morning.

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) helped fuel the Nasdaq's advance. closing at $535 a share, and in after-hours Tuesday, Apple's market cap hit $500 billion. It is one of just five other companies to enjoy the half-trillion level; giants Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and IBM (NYSE:IBM) have enjoyed such high valuations in previous years.

On this Leap Day 2012, it’s worth taking a look back at where we were exactly four years ago, on February 29, 2008. The Dow stood at 12266 but had already shed a tenth of its value, only to be essentially cut in half in the months to follow. The unemployment rate stood at a much healthier 4.9%, and gold was at $887.50 an ounce.

Investors will be monitoring comments from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke later this morning, as he takes up day one of testimony before Congress. His semi-annual economic address will be before a House Financial Service Committee. Bernanke may be pressured over the Fed's decision to keep interest rates near zero until 2014. Investors will also be awaiting his outlook on the economy.

Americans have certainly become more confident in recent months, not only on Wall Street but Main Street, too. The Conference Board's February Consumer Confidence reading came in at the best level in a year yesterday, as Americans think the job market is improving.  Those who responded positively to the "jobs plentiful" category was the strongest since January 2009.

Overseas, European stock markets opened mostly firmer Wednesday, with banks leading gains as investors focused on results of the second long-term refinancing operation from the European Central Bank. The ECB will inject $712 billion into the banking system over three years.