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Stocks End Higher Ahead of Jobs, Earnings

Stocks closed to the upside in another thin trading session Wednesday after investors largely shrugged off a handful of weak economic news and looked ahead to Friday's employment report in addition to earnings season, which kicks off next week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 56.15 points to close at 12,626.02, led by DuPont and Caterpillar . The Dow is at its highest level in almost two months and is up about 1,000 points for 2011.

The S&P 500 eked out a 1.34 point gain to finish at 1.339.22.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq climbed 8.25 points to end at 2,834.02. The Nasdaq is up for the seventh-consecutive session.

The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, gained above 16.

Among key S&P stocks, consumer staples and industrials advanced, while financials and telecom declined.

“There’s going to be continued volatility in the markets throughout the summer months into early fall,” said Zahid Siddique, portfolio manager of Gabelli Equity Trust. “[But] as the economic indicators begin to improve, there will be less volatility and more stability in the markets by year-end.”

Investors will be closely watching the government's monthly jobs report on Friday, which is expected to show a modest gain after a May slowdown.

In addition, second-quarter earnings season unofficially kicks off next week, with steel producer Alcoa scheduled to report after-the-bell Monday.

Financial stocks including BofA, Citigroup and Wells Fargo fell after shares in Portuguese and Spanish banks tumbled following Moody's downgrade of Portugal. The XLF ETF also traded lower.

In addition, Barclays tumbled almost 5 percent after Moody's said almost a third of European banks being tested for their their resilience in bad markets may need extra support. (Read More: A Warning Sign in the Financials?)

On the tech front, Apple has placed orders for key parts in a next-generation iPhone which it is preparing to launch by year-end, according to sources. The new iPhone is rumored to use wireless chips from Qualcomm , instead of Samsung, used in the current iPhone4.

Meanwhile, a man accused of hacking into AT&T servers and stealing personal information belonging to 120,000 iPad users was indicted.

Netflix rebounded even after Merriman downgraded the online-video streaming firm to "neutral" from "buy." The company hit another all-time high Tuesday following news that it will expand serviceto South and Central America along with the Caribbean later this year.

Oil prices declinedamid worries over the sustainability of global economic recovery. U.S. light, sweet crude slipped 24 cents to settle at $96.65 a barrel, while London Brent crude traded near $113. The euro slid for a second session against the dollar.

Transocean declined after the oil rig firm evacuated more than 100 people from a deepwater rig off Ghana working for EniSpAafter water was seen on board. A spokesman said the rig is stable and no injuries were reported.

NewsCorp tumbled amid a phone-hacking scandal by the media firm's newspapers in Britain.

Meanwhile, Berkshire Hathaway has made a bid for Citigroup'sconsumer lending unit OneMain, according to the Wall Street Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter.

General Motors gained after Morgan Stanley added the automaker to its Best Ideas list, while removing Ford .

Walgreens gained after the drugstore chain reported better-than-expected June sales.

Meanwhile, NYSE Euronext shareholders will vote on their merger with the Deutsche Boerse Thursday morning.

Volume was light with the consolidated tape of the NYSE at 3.18 billion shares, while 821 million shares changed hands on the floor. Volume is expected to remain thin amid shortened trading week.

Among the day's economic news, the ISM non-manufacturing index slipped slightly below estimates to 53.3 in June. Economists expected the index to fall to 54.0.

Also, the number of planned layoffs increasedfor the second month in a row, according a report from job outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

In addition, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that application activity dipped last weekeven though actual home loan requests rose.

The Chinese central bank approved an increase of 0.25 percentage points, the nation's latest move to cool growth.

European shares snapped a seven-day winning streak, led by banks, as euro sovereign debt worries resurfaced after Moody's cut Portugal's credit rating.

On Tap This Week:

THURSDAY: ADP employment report, jobless claims, oil inventories, chain-store sales
FRIDAY: Non-farm payroll, wholesale trade, consumer credit

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