U.S. stocks jumped on Tuesday as an unexpected surge in February housing starts gave investors a rare bit of good economic news, and an upbeat broker comment on bellwether Cisco Systems drove technology shares sharply higher.

A nearly 3 percent rise in U.S. crude oil futures boosted energy shares. Exxon Mobil shares rose 1.9 percent to $68.24 and ranked as the Dow's top gainer.

Retailer Home Depot's stock was also among the Dow's major advancers, rising 5.8 percent to $21.29 after a brokerage raised its view on the stock and several other retailers to buy.

The Dow Jones home construction index <.DJUSHB> rose 5.1 percent after data showed housing starts jumped 22.2 percent in February, the biggest percentage rise since January 1990, and also the first increase since last April.

Among home builders' stocks, top gainers included Ryland Group , up 9.7 percent at $15.58, and KB Home , up 7.7 percent at $10.94.

Optimism about the banking sector has helped the market

rebound from 12-year lows hit earlier this month. JPMorgan shares rose 4.9 percent to $24.21. An S&P financial sector index <.GSPF> gained 3.1 percent.

The rally in cyclicals is partially based on the housing news this morning, said Michael Koskuba, portfolio manager and analyst at Victory Capital Management in New York.

One of the issues is these stocks have been so beaten up and expectations are so low that any whiff of good news is sending (them) up to higher levels.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 90.88 points, or 1.26 percent, to 7,307.85. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> rose gained 14.08 points, or 1.87 percent, to 767.97. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> added 31.87 points, or 2.27 percent, to 1,435.89.

The Nasdaq was driven higher by a 2.5 percent rise in shares of networking equipment maker Cisco after Goldman Sachs added the stock to its conviction buy list. [ID:nBNG31576] Cisco was trading at $15.83.

Apple Inc shares, up 2.7 percent at $97.99, contributed the most to the Nasdaq's advance.

On the downside, Alcoa's dividend cut of more than 80 percent underscored the impact of the economic slump. [ID:nN16536634] Alcoa shares fell 8.2 percent to $5.62.

An earnings warning from steelmaker Nucor sent the stock sliding 13 percent to $32.15.

(Editing by Jan Paschal)