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Stocks Finish Higher on Telecom, Energy Strength

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks finished higher Tuesday, helped by gains in telecom and oil and gas stocks, as the market shrugged off weak economic data and global concerns to focus on March jobs data due later this week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 81 points, or 0.7%, at 12,279. The S&P 500 climbed 9 points, or 0.7%, to close at 1319, and the Nasdaq Composite finished ahead by 26 points, or 0.9%, at 2757.

Shares of Home Depot (HD - Get Report) was led the Dow higher as the stock rose 2.8% to $37.70. The home improvement retailer said it plans to buy back $1 billion of outstanding shares in an accelerated share-repurchase program.

Telecom stocks AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) also traded near the top of the Dow, gaining for the second straight day. while Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Intel (INTC), Bank of America (BAC) and Kraft Foods (KFT) were the biggest laggards.

Market breadth was positive with 66% of the stocks traded on the NYSE finishing higher while 31% declined.

Economic data on Tuesday was mostly weak but investors have proven willing to turn a blind eye in anticipation of a more positive March jobs report on Friday.

The S&P Case-Shiller 20-city home price index showed a slightly milder-than-expected decrease of 3.1% in January, after a decline of 2.43% in December. According to Briefing.com, economists had been expecting a drop of 3.5% in January.

The Conference Board said consumer confidence fell to a reading of 63.4 in March , which was lower than the reading of 65 that economists had been expecting, and far weaker than February's level of 72.

"The old joke is watch what consumers do, and not what they say," said John Canally, economist for LPL Financial, pointing to the weekly store sales data out earlier in the morning showing a 0.2% gain in sales and a year-over-year gain of 2.6%.

"What they're saying is basically that they're tired of turning on the TV and seeing bad news, they're tired of going to grocery stores and seeing that prices are up, they're tired of paying more at the gas pump and they're tired of seeing their 401ks essentially flat. That's what the consumer confidence report said: gasoline prices are up, there's bad news in Libya and bad news in Japan, and the stock market has been largely flat this month."

"I think one of the reasons why the market didn't really react to these numbers is that it's focused elsewhere, with the jobs stuff starting tomorrow," Canally said.

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