Stocks Off to Hot Start in January

January's been cold for commuters, but hot for investors.

The major averages are up significantly this month; the Dow Industrials have gained 3%, the S&P 500 has gained 4% and the Nasdaq is outperforming with a rise of more than 6% so far this year.

So, what has investors so keen for risk?

“A series of positive economic data last quarter has a lot of people whistling past the graveyard, pretending not to notice what may be creeping up on them,” says U.S. economist Stephen Guilfoyle at Meridian Equity Partners.

On the data front, he’s referencing the December jobs report, when unemployment fell to 8.5%, as well as the recent string of relatively positive jobless claims data. The streak continued Thursday morning, with weekly jobless claims falling far more than expected.

There’s also hope for the battered housing market. Homebuilder sentiment surged in January to the best level since 2007. At the same time, more people are taking advantage of record-low interest rates. Both refinancings and mortgage applications rose last week, as the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.89%.

It’s not all good news, however.  Photography icon and former blue chip Eastman Kodak has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The 132-year-old company has received nearly $1 billion in debtor in possession financing from Citigroup (NYSE:C) to continue operating and paying its employees and bills during the bankruptcy reorganization process.  The move comes as the ailing photo company has failed to find a buyer for its trove of 1,100 digital imaging patents.

Oil prices are moving up to nearly $102 a barrel. The White House rejected plans to extend the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline running from the Canada tar sands to Texas, with President Obama saying the State Department needs more time to determine if the project is environmentally safe. His critics say the U.S. needs the 20,000 or so jobs the pipeline would create and to reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy.

On the earnings front, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) said it made $2 billion in the final three months of last year, as it sold its stake in a Chinese bank and sold debt. That was about in line with what Wall Street was expecting and BofA shares are up in pre-market trading.