"Despite some weakness in consumer confidence, people are still spending money," David Lebovitz, global market strategist for J.P. Morgan Funds, said of monthly sales figures from auto manufacturers.
U.S. automobile sales rose 4.6 percent in November to 1.3 million, Autodata reported, with the auto sales rate coming to 17.2 million last month in the strongest pace for the month since 2003.
The auto sales "indicate the economy's momentum remains on track, and is moving along, basically on all fronts," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital.
Stocks maintained gains after the Commerce Department reported rose 1.1 percent in October.
BP climbed on unconfirmed talk of a takeover bid for the U.K. energy company from Royal Dutch Shell; RadioShack fell as the electronics retailer rejected claims it had breached covenants on a term loan from Harbinger Group unit Salus Capital Partners.
Apple fell, extending losses that followed its largest single-day decline since September.
Energy costs were on the retreat again, with crude futures for January delivery falling $2.12, or 3.1 percent, to $66.88 a barrel.
"Oil prices are a double-edged sword," said Lebovitz, saying the drop is obviously not good for oil producers who represent 30 percent of capital expenditures among the S&P 500 companies.
"But the other side of the coin is it is good for the consumer, as lower oil prices mean lower gas prices, and in a consumption-based economy that provides a strong tail wind to consumer spending," Lebovitz said.
Lebovitz and other analysts downplayed a report from IBM Digital Analytics that showed Cyber Monday online sales grew from last year, but at a slower pace.
"Black Friday and Cyber Monday are not statistically significant in terms of predicting the overall holiday season," offered Lebovitz of the traditional sales period where retailers offer holiday promotions.
At or near session highs, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 102.75 points, or 0.6 percent, to 17,879.55, with Chevron and Exxon Mobil lately leading blue-chip gains that extended to 21 of 30 components.
The advanced 13.11 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,066.55, with energy pacing sector gains and telecommunications the sole laggard of its 10 major industries.
The Nasdaq gained 28.46 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,755.81.
For every share falling, two rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where 813 million shares traded. Composite volume neared 3.7 billion.
The CBOE Volatility Index, one measure of investor uncertainty, fell 10.1 percent to 12.85.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note used to figure mortgage rates and other consumer loans added 6 basis points to 2.2923 percent.
The U.S. dollar rose against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners and dollar-denominated commodities including oil and gold fell, with the gold futures contract for February down $18.70, or 1.5 percent, to $1,199.40 an ounce.
The European Central Bank is slated to meet on its monetary policy later in the week in Frankfort, with investors waiting to see whether the ECB opts to purchase government bonds in widening its effort to stimulate the euro-zone economy.
"I think the market is already discounting that the ECB is not going to elect to do new stimulus just yet," said Cardillo.
On Monday, U.S. stocks declined, with the Nasdaq Composite falling for the first session in seven, as a lackluster start to the holiday shopping season mostly overrode data that had a measure of U.S. factory activity slowing less than expected in November.
"Yesterday we had a rather negative session; I think that clears the air for the market to focus on a long string of economic data that begins Tuesday, with the Beige Book in particular, and then Friday's jobs report," said Rockwell Global Capital's Cardillo.
Coming Up This Week:
Earnings: Brown Forman, Abercrombie and Fitch, Royal Bank of Canada, Aeropostale
8:15 a.m.: ADP employment
8:30 a.m.: Productivity and costs
10:00 a.m.: ISM nonmanufacturing
12:30 p.m.: Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser
2:00 p.m.: Beige book
2:00 p.m.: Fed Gov Lael Brainard on financial stability
7:30 p.m.: Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher
Chain store sales
European Central Bank rate meeting
Earnings: Toronto Dominion, Zumiez, Smith and Wesson, Dollar General, Barnes and Noble, American Eagle Outfitters, Ulta Salon, Kroger
8:30 a.m.: Initial claims
8:30 a.m.: Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester
1:15 p.m. Fed Gov. Brainard
Earnings: Big Lots, Vail Resorts
8:30 a.m.: Employment report
8:30 a.m.: International Trade
8:45 a.m.: Cleveland Fed's Mester
1000 a.m.: Factory orders
3:00 p.m.: Consumer credit
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