U.S. stocks closed higher on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 halting a three-session drop, as investors took an optimistic stance ahead of Friday's jobs report and fourth-quarter earnings, which start in earnest this week.
"It's interesting that the market has rallied so much without so much to bite on," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott. "We're basically getting back much of what we lost the last few days on no news, or on a trade report that is not usually market moving," said Luschini.
But, "given the bullish bias that investors have had, maybe the last three days were the aberration, and not today," said Luschini. "There is no real good explanation for that either," he adds of the recent decline.
Convergys rallied after saying it would purchase Stream Global Services for $820 million; Palo Alto Networks jumped after the computer-security firm agreed to acquire Morta Security for an undisclosed sum. Netflix declined after getting hit with a downgrade. Micron Technology climbed after Roth Capital increased its price target on the stock by $4 to $25. The company's quarterly results are expected after the market close.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 105.84 points, or 0.6 percent, to 16,530.94, with UnitedHealth Group leading gains that included 24 of the blue-chip index's 30 components. Deutsche Bank upgraded its view of the insurer's stock to buy from hold. Johnson & Johnson gained after RBC Capital markets hiked the health-care products supplier to outperform from sector perform.
JPMorgan Chase was the Dow's biggest loser, off 1 percent after authorities on Tuesday said the bank would have to pay $1.7 billion to settle charges it violated laws that require banks to monitor customer activity for money laundering in its handling of accounts of Bernard Madoff.
The S&P 500 rose 11.11 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,837.88, with health care and technology leading gains that included all but one -- materials -- of its 10 major industry sectors.
The Nasdaq advanced 39.50 points, or 1 percent, to 4,153.18, led by Neurocrine Biosciences, up nearly 90 percent after the company late Monday said one of its experimental drugs helped treat the symptoms of an illness that causes involuntary spasms.
For every share that fell, two rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where 699 million shares traded. Composite volume hit 3.5 billion.
The U.S. dollar edged higher against the currencies of major trading partners and the 10-year Treasury yield used in determining mortgage rates and other consumer loans fell 2 basis points to 2.945 percent.
Ahead of the market's open, stock-index futures held their gains after the Commerce Department reported the trade deficit in the U.S. narrowed more than forecast as oil imports fell and exports rose, with the gap narrowing to $34.3 billion.
The ADP Research Institute reports on corporate payrolls on Wednesday, with minutes from the Federal Reserve's December meeting slated for release in the afternoon. The Labor Department reports on nonfarm payrolls and the jobless rate for December on Friday.
"People are looking toward Friday, and expecting that we are going to get a pretty good employment number," said Sam Stovall, chef equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ. That's especially as the Federal Reserve is "taking us off the IV," added Stovall, referring the the central bank's December decision to start tapering its monthly asset purchases.
Last Monday, The U.S. Senate voted 56-26 in confirming Janet Yellen to become the next chairman of the Federal Reserve. She'll replace Ben Bernanke, whose eight-year tenure at the Fed ends Jan. 31.
"The politics of the job are pretty apparent," emailed Nick Raich, chief executive officer at the Earnings Scout, noting that Yellen "had the narrowest margin of approval for a Fed chief ever."
On Tuesday, Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said the U.S. economy remains vulnerable the longer inflation remains too low. In a separate appearance, San Francisco Fed President John Williams said the Fed would likely phase out its bond-purchasing stimulus this year so long as the U.S. recovery continues as anticipated.
On Thursday, Alcoa reports fourth-quarter earnings after the market close.
On Monday, stocks closed with modest losses as mixed economic data had investors in a cautious mood.
—By CNBC's Kate Gibson
Coming Up This Week:
Tuesday: Companies expected to report quarterly results include Micron, Apollo Group and The Container Store.
Wednesday: ADP report for December at 8:15 a.m. Eastern. 10-year Treasury note auction at 1 p.m. Eastern. Release of FOMC minutes at 2 p.m. Eastern. Consumer credit for November at 3 p.m. Eastern. Companies expected to report quarterly results include Constellation Brands, Ruby Tuesday, Family Dollar and Monsanto.
Thursday: Weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. Eastern. December chain-store sales. Kansas City Fed President Esther George talks about the economy at 1:30 p.m. Eastern. Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota talks about the economy at 8 p.m. Eastern. Companies expected to report quarterly results include Alcoa, PriceSmart, Supervalue and Texas Industries.
Friday: Nonfarm payrolls at 8:30 a.m. Eastern. Wholesale inventories for November at 10 a.m. Eastern.
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