Stocks advanced Monday, with the Nasdaq closing at a new 15-month high, after upgrades on Alcoa and Intel and as the Senate health-care bill advanced.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 85.25, or 0.8 percent, to close at 10,414.14. The S&P 500 gained 1.1 percent to 1,114.05, while the Nasdaq advanced 1.2 percent to 2,237.66, its highest close since Sept. 2008.
The dollar bounced back against both the euro and yen, while January crude settled below $73 a barrel. Gold fell below $1,100 an ounce after recent multi-week lows.
Heading into the final two trading weeks of the year, it's unclear whether major indexes will log gains for December but gains for 2009 are all but locked in.
Alcoa led the Dow, up about 8 percent, after an upgrade by Morgan Stanley to "overweight." Separately, Alcoa announced a partnership Sunday with Saudi Arabian Mining to develop a low-cost aluminum.
Intel was in the Dow's No. 2 spot, up more than 2 percent, after Barclays upgraded the stock to "overweight."
Health-care stocks got a boost after a Senate bill advanced without provisions seen as detrimental to health-care providers. Cigna and Aetna were each up about 4 percent.
Plus, a big M&A deal in the sector today: Paris-based Sanofi Aventis said it will acquire Chattem in 2010 for $1.9 billion in cash, an acquisition expected to create the world's fifth-largest health-care company. Chattem shares soared 33 percent, reflecting the premium offered in the $93.50-a-share deal.
And Pfizer said it's buying the rights to a stem-cell therapy to treat inflammatory bowel disease from Atherys.
Cell Therapeutics said European health regulators granted orphan status to its experimental drug pixantrone, which treats a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.
Another deal over the weekend saw Bucyrus International agree to buy the mining unit of Terex for $1.3 billion. The deal will allow Terex to ask for $300 million worth of Bucyrus shares.
Retailers finished mostly higher despite a weekend blizzardin the Northeast cutting into what would have been busy holiday shopping traffic. Macy's, Nordstrom and Sears all gained more than 3 percent.
Positive earnings news also helped boost investor spirits, with drugstore chain Walgreen reporting a quarterly profit gain of 20 percent that beat Wall Street estimates.
Food maker ConAgra also beat analyst estimates as it said sales of of its products were helped by more people eating at home.
After the bell, Jabil Circuit is set to report its quarterly earnings.
Fertilizer maker Potash saw its shares gain after Goldman Sachs added the company to its conviction buy list. Goldman also raised Potash competitor Mosaic to "buy" from "neutral," sending its shares higher.
— Reuters contributed to this article.
Still to Come Week:
TUESDAY: OPEC meeting in Angola; GDP (final); existing-home sales; Earnings from Micron
WEDNESDAY: Weekly mortgage applications; personal income, spending; consumer sentiment; new-home sales; weekly crude inventories
THURSDAY: Weekly jobless claims; durable-goods orders; US markets close at 1pm for the Christmas holiday
FRIDAY: All US financial markets closed for Christmas holiday