Stocks climbed to a five-month high on Tuesday after trade data showed strong Chinese demand for metals and a bullish forecast by aluminum company Alcoa pointed to a stronger global economy.
The market was bolstered by recent economic reports and optimism about the U.S. earnings season, although Wall Street's enthusiasm was tempered by upcoming debt auctions this week by Italy and Spain, two countries at the center of the euro zone crisis.
The general economy, outside of the financial market, seems to be doing well, and there is a broader consensus from retailers (retail investors) that they have nothing to fear, said Sean Darby, global head of equity strategy at Jefferies Group.
Industrial and material stocks, closely tied to economic performance, were the day's biggest gainers. Caterpillar Inc
U.S. bank stocks continued a rebound that has lifted the KBW banks index <.BKX> more than 8 percent so far this year. The KBW rose 1.7 percent, while the S&P financial sector <.GSPF> rose 1.9 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was up 64.56 points, or 0.52 percent, at 12,457.25. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was up 10.43 points, or 0.81 percent, at 1,291.13. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 22.14 points, or 0.83 percent, at 2,698.70.
A gauge of materials companies' shares <.GSPM> led S&P 500 sectors with a gain of 1.9 percent.
Materials have been one of the weaker areas, so values are quite extraordinary if you believe the recovery is going to drive prices higher, said Robert Lutts, president of Cabot Money Management in Salem, Massachusetts.
The Dow and S&P 500 hit their highest intraday levels in five months. A close above 1,285.09 would be the highest for the S&P since at least August 1 and would pierce technical resistance, which could augur further gains.
Mining stocks led European markets higher. The STOXX Europe 600 Basic Resources index <.SXPP> rose 3.9 percent and the broad FTSEurofirst 300 <.FTEU3> closed up nearly 2 percent.
Copper prices rose 3.1 percent, the best performance since late November, after China reported copper imports rose to a record high last month.
The CBOE Volatility Index VIX <.VIX>, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, fell 2.9 percent to 20.46, making another test of the psychologically key 20 level, according to WhatsTrading.com options strategist Frederic Ruffy.
The VIX is down about 4.1 percent so far in 2012 and falling to levels last seen in late July as the S&P 500 has seen average daily price moves of less than 8 points so far this year, he said.
Easing some concerns about Europe, Fitch said it does not expect to cut France's AAA credit rating this year, while countries under review such as Italy or Spain could be downgraded by one or two notches.
(Reporting By Angela Moon, Additional reporting by Doris Frankel in Chicago; Editing by Kenneth Barry)