The Dow industrial average crossed the 13,000 level for the first time in nearly four years on Tuesday as signs of improvement in the economy and stabilization of Europe's debt crisis drove the index more than 20 percent since late last year.

After topping 13,000 in the late morning, the Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> eased to 12,996.04, gaining 46.17 points, or 0.36 percent. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> gained 5.27 points, or 0.39 percent, to 1,366.50. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> gained 9.94 points, or 0.34 percent, to 2,961.72.

(Reporting By Edward Krudy)