NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) -- Stocks rallied Friday as the government's March jobs report showed another month of strong gains, strengthening market sentiment.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

got a strong start to the new quarter, climbing to a high not seen since June 2008. The Dow traded as high as 12,419.71 during Friday's session, closing higher by 57 points, or 0.5%, at 12,377. The

S&P 500

finished higher by 7 points, or 0.5%, at 1,332, and the

Nasdaq

gained 8 points, or 0.3%, at 2,790.

Conglomerate and energy stocks were among the session's biggest gainers.

BP

(BP) - Get Report

gained 3.4% to $45.66 and

Hess

(HES) - Get Report

added 1.8% to $86.74.

On the Dow,

Home Depot

(HD) - Get Report

,

Caterpillar

(CAT) - Get Report

,

Coca-Cola

(KO) - Get Report

and

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

were the top-performers while

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

,

Alcoa

(AA) - Get Report

and

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

were the biggest laggards.

The

Labor Department said the U.S. economy added 216,000 jobs in March, surpassing the job growth of 185,000 that economists had been expecting , according to Briefing.com. That compares with February's gains of 194,000. Private payrolls also came in better-than-expected, rising by 230,000 after adding 240,000 in the prior month. Economists had only been expecting private payroll gains of 203,000.

The unemployment rate fell to the lowest level in two years, at 8.8%, even though Wall Street expected it to hold steady at 8.9%. The average workweek remained at 34.3 hours, as expected, and hourly earnings showed no change despite forecasts for an uptick of 0.2%.

"The job report looked good, continuing the trend of 200,000-plus job growth, and showing that it looks to be headed in the right direction," said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel.

In response to whether Tuz considers the market to be overbought at current levels, he said, "I do think there's a lot of complacency in the market right now given the tenuous nature of the recovery, plus the continuing turmoil in the Middle East, and the ramifications of the earthquake in Japan , which happened just three weeks ago. It amazes me that the market has largely shrugged it all off and has even moved higher since then."

Crude oil prices continued to rise a day after settling at a 30-month high. According to an

Associated Press

report, the gains came as troops loyal to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi pushed back anti-government fighters from crucial areas in eastern Libya, decreasing the likelihood that the country will resume crude exports soon. The May crude added $1.22, or 1.1%, to settle at $107.94 a barrel.

Market breadth was weighted to the upside with 68% of shares trading on the New York Stock Exchange rising, while 30% were declining. Volume stood at 708 million shares and 1.8 billion shares changed hands on the Nasdaq.

Earlier, the

Institute for Supply Management said manufacturing activity dipped slightly in March to a reading of 61.2. Economists had expected to it remain unchanged at February's level of 61.4, according to Briefing.com.

Construction spending fell at a faster-than-expected rate in February, according to the Commerce Department's report. Spending declined 1.4%, compared with the 0.7% dip expected by Wall Street and a drop of 1.8% in January.

Ford

(F) - Get Report

saw its stock gain 1.7% to $15.16 on

sales that grew 19.2% in March.

Shares of

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

rose 4.5% at $32.41 after the

automotive company said March sales rose 11.4% in spite of lower incentives.

Exchange companies

Nasdaq OMX

I:IXIC

and

IntercontinentalExchange

(ICE) - Get Report

jointly proposed to buy

NYSE Euronext

(NYX)

for $42.50 in cash and stock, or roughly $11.3 billion. The offer represents a 19% premium over

Deutsche Boerse's

. Shares of

NYSE Euronext jumped 12.6% to $39.60.

Shares of

Logitech International

(LOGI) - Get Report

plummeted 18.8% to $14.72 after the

digital products company cut its outlook for fiscal 2011 operating income and sales.

Irish bank stress tests showed that the sector needs a complete overhaul and an additional €24 billion ($34 billion) in cash. Shares of the

Bank of Ireland

(IRE)

listed on the NYSE soared 22.3% to $2.14 after it announced plans to raise additional capital on its own.

London's FTSE gained 1.7%, and the DAX in Frankfurt finished 2% higher. Earlier, Japan's Nikkei fell 0.5% and Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.2%.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury rose 3/32, diluting the yield to 3.457%. The dollar weakened against a basket of currencies with the dollar index down by 0.3%.

.

Elsewhere in commodity markets,

gold prices took a breather after the June contract settled at a record high of $1,439.90 an ounce on Thursday. Investors favored stocks over the safe-haven investment because the strong March jobs report lifted confidence. The June gold contract lost $11, or 0.8%, to settle at $1,428.90 an ounce.

--Written by Melinda Peer and Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York

.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.