Wall Street Zips Higher; Google Hits $800

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The markets posted solid gains on Tuesday, helped my a round of strong data from Germany. Shares of search giant Google crossed the $800 mark for the first time.

Today's Markets

As of 3:00 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 47.5 points, or 0.34%, to 14029, the S&P 500 gained 9.4 points, or 0.62%, to 1529 and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 16.3 points, or 0.51%, to 3208.

Every major sector was recently in the green with the exception of health-related stocks. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) hit a fresh record high above $800 a share. However, insurers like Humana (NYSE:HUM) and Aetna (NYSE:AET) fell sharply on the back of a U.S. government proposal that would put downward pressure on Medicare Advantage rates. Medicare is a program that provides health insurance for senior citizens, and had been seen as a potential profit center for big health insurers.

The S&P 500 posted its seventh consecutive gain last week -- the longest winning streak for the broad-market average in more than two years. It now sits within less than 3% of its record high. Meanwhile stock-market volatility, as measured by the CBOE's VIX, is right above its lowest levels since 2007.

German Sentiment Data Top Expectations

The focus early in the day was on a closely-watched survey from the Centre for European Economic Research (Zew) on German economic sentiment. The Zew gauge surged 16.7 points to 48.2 in February, easily beating estimates of 35 and marking its highest level since 2010.

"The financial market experts have made their peace with the weak fourth quarter of 2012," Zew President Wolfgang Franz wrote in a report.

"In their opinion the German economy faces less headwinds from the euro crisis than throughout the last months. If this situation remains unchanged during the next months, German business activity may pick up speed moderately."

Germany is Europe's biggest economy and a major exporter. It has struggled with headwinds from the eurozone debt crisis, but has began to show signs that it is ready to rev up again this year.

On the corporate front, Office Depot (NYSE:ODP) and OfficeMax (NYSE:OMX) were said to be in advanced negotiations for a potential merger, according to multiple media reports. A combination could help the two office-supply stores rival giant Staples (NASDAQ:SPLS).

Quarterly results from Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), which has revealed plans to be taken private by its founder Michael Dell and a consortium of investors, are due after the closing bell. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) said it now has 60 million active users on Outlook.com, the software heavyweight's online email suite designed to compete with Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Gmail.

Elsewhere, a report from the National Association of Home Builders showed sentiment unexpectedly dropping slightly in February. The group's gauge slipped to 46 from 47 the month before, missing expectations of an increase to 48.

President Barack Obama also held a speech, urging Congress to pass legislation that avoids sequestration -- painful, arbitrary spending cuts due to kick in in two weeks. Goldman Sachs Chief U.S. Economist Jan Hatzius issued a note to clients over the weekend saying the investment bank believes fiscal downside risks to U.S. economic growth have "diminished;" however, so-called fiscal drag is expected to weigh throughout 2013.

In commodities, oil prices drifted lower. The benchmark U.S. crude contract slipped 19 cents, or 0.2%, to $95.67 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline rose 0.39% to $3.147 a gallon. Gold rose $3.10, or 0.19%, to $1,613 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 rallied 1.3% to 2650, the English FTSE 100 rose 0.52% to 6352 and the German DAX jumped 1.2% to 7717.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 fell 0.31% to 11372 and the Chinese Hang Seng sold off by 1% to 23144.

Follow Adam Samson on Twitter @adamsamson.