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Stocks Finish Higher; Nasdaq Back Above 3000

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The major U.S. equity averages finished modestly higher Thursday despite the ongoing back-and-forth on Capitol Hill about the pace of U.S. budget talks.

House Speaker John Boehner threw cold water on the perception that momentum toward a compromise was picking up, bringing stocks off early-session highs. Boehner was quoted as saying there's been no "substantive" progress as yet in the ongoing bi-partisan negotiations to avoid the fiscal cliff, according to media reports.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose nearly 37 points, or 0.28%, to close at 13,022. The blue-chip index, which climbed as high as 13,062 earlier in the day, rose for a second-straight session and is now up 6.58% year-to-date.

Winners ran ahead of losers within the Dow, 21 to 8, with Alcoa (AA) unchanged. The biggest percentage gainers within the index were Caterpillar (CAT), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), and UnitedHealth (UNH).

Shares of Walt Disney (DIS) rose 1.1% after the entertainment and media giant announced a 25% boost to its annual dividend, bringing the payout to 75 cents a share.

Prominent Dow decliners included Intel (INTC), Home Depot (HD), and Microsoft (MSFT), which slumped following a report that sales of Windows-based PCs slumped after the release of the company's Windows 8 operating system software update.

Intel shares fell 2.8% after The Wall Street Journal reported that Japan's Sharp is in talks with Dell (DELL), Intel and Qualcomm (QCOM) about a possible capital injection to help it bolster its balance sheet, citing people familiar with the discussions.

The S&P 500 added 6 points, or 0.43%, to close at 1416, while the Nasdaq gained 20 points, or 0.68%, to settle at 3012 for its first finish above 3000 since Nov. 6.

The strongest sectors in the broad market, which was entirely in the green, were consumer cyclicals, basic materials, health care and financials.

Advancers outpaced decliners by a nearly 2.5-to-1 ratio on the New York Stock Exchange and a roughly 2.7-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq. Volume finished at 3.34 billion on the Big Board and 1.76 billion on the Nasdaq.

"Fiscal cliff concerns continue to be front and center, as the rumors from Washington tends to drive the overall market action for that day," said Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist with Schaeffer's Investment Research, adding later: " The fiscal cliff is a big deal, but we wouldn't be surprised if once again the overall fears are already priced into things here."

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