Greek Hopes, Strong Data Spark Rally

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Media reports European leaders may agree to a Greek bailout as soon as Monday, along with strong U.S. jobs and manufacturing data, launched stocks sharply higher.

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Today's Markets

As of 3:10 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 124 points, or 0.97%, to 12905, the S&P 500 climbed 14.8 points, or 1.1%, to 1358 and the Nasdaq Composite gained 42.4 points, or 1.5%, to 2958.

On a broad level, materials, financial, energy and technology companies were performing the best. Indeed, looking at a cross-section of the Dow, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) zoomed higher by more than 4%, while Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) was up 3.5%. Alcoa (NYSE:AA), the aluminum giant, and ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) were up more than 1% as well.

Market participants are still closely eyeing developments out of Europe. European Union officials once again pushed back their decision on Greece's $169 billion bailout until Monday at the earliest. However, Reuters reported in the late morning that they may move to approve the bailout on Monday. Additionally, a separate report from Reuters said the European Central Bank plans on exchanging its Greek bonds this weekend as part of a plan to help the country lessen its debt load.

The embattled country has a debt payment coming up on March 20, which it won't be able to make without the first tranche of rescue aid. A default of Greek debt, analysts have said, could imperil financial markets across the continent.

Eurozone blue chips slipped 0.45%, shedding much heavier losses, as tracked by the Euro Stoxx 50 index. Meanwhile, the euro turned course and climbed 0.09% to $1.3078. The dollar was down 0.15% against a basket of six world currencies as tracked by the dollar index.

Data Deluge

Traders were also parsing through a slew of data on the U.S. economy.

New claims for unemployment benefits fell to 348,000 last week -- the lowest level since early March 2008 -- from an upwardly revised 361,000 the week prior. Economists had expected claims to rise to 365,000 from an initial reading of 358,000. The four-week moving average, which is seen as a less volatile reading, fell to its lowest level since April 2008.

The labor market has been showing significant signs of improvement recently. Indeed, the unemployment rate fell to 8.3%, its lowest level since February 2009 in January.

Manufacturing in the mid-Atlantic region picked up steam in early February. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve's manufacturing gauge jumped to 10.2 for the month from 7.3 in January. Economists expected a reading of 9.5.

Like the jobs market, manufacturing has also rebounded considerably in recent months, with regional and national indices moving on an upward trajectory.

Housing starts rose 1.5% in January to a 699,0000-unit rate, topping estimates of a 675,000-unit rate. Permits to build new homes rose 0.7% to a 676,000-unit rate, slightly less than the 680,000-unit rate expected.

The Producer Price Index climbed 0.1% in January from December, a smaller rise than the 0.4% economists expected. Excluding the food and energy components, prices rose 0.4%, quicker than the 0.2% forecast.

On the corporate front, General Motors (NYSE:GM) posted a fourth-quarter profit of 39 cents a share, excluding items, on sales of $38 billion. Analysts expected the automaker to earn 41 cents on $38.21 billion.

Commodities markets were mostly higher, shedding earlier losses.

The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York rose 50 cents, or 0.49%, to $102.64 a barrel. Wholesale RBOB gasoline climbed 1.3% to $3.05 a gallon.

Gold ticked higher by 30 cents, or 0.02%, to $1,728 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

Eurozone blue chips slid 0.45%, the English FTSE 100 dropped 0.26% to 5,876 and the German DAX slipped 0.4% to 6,731.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 edged lower by 0.24% to 9,238 and the Chinese Hang Seng fell 0.41% to 21,277.

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