Updated from 4:06 p.m. EST

Blue chips closed near their session highs Tuesday amid a strong read on durable-goods orders and hopes for another Federal Reserve rate cut, but tech stocks were little changed.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 96.41 points, or 0.78%, at 12,480.30, led by advances in components Boeing ( BA), JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) and AT&T ( T). The S&P 500 was better by 8.33 points, or 0.62%, at 1362.30.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite lagged by comparison, edging up 8.15 points, or 0.35%, to 2358.06. Weighing on the index were losses in Internet stocks eBay ( EBAY), Amazon.com ( AMZN) and Baidu.com ( BIDU).

"The market is trying to work its way higher, but there is a lot for investors to digest," said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist with Spencer Clarke LLC. "It's a confusing time for investors because of the many cross currents. It's a very mixed picture and investors should prepare for continued volatility."

Volume and breadth were strong for the session. On the New York Stock Exchange 3.99 billion shares changed hands, as advancers topped decliners by a 2-to-1 margin. Volume on the Nasdaq reached 2.14 billion shares, with winners beating losers 3 to 2.

Stocks opened solidly higher following the Commerce Department's durable-goods report, which showed an increase of 5.2% in December orders, more than doubling economists' expectations. Excluding transportation, orders were up 2.6% last month, also better than forecasts.

November's durables number was revised to a 0.5% gain, compared with the previously reported 0.1% decline.

"This was a surprise, and it shows that business activity isn't all negative," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist with Avalon Partners. "It's a step in the right direction, but the market is still on Fed watch. We still need further evidence that the economy isn't falling into a recession to disperse all the clouds hanging over the market."

Elsewhere on the economic front, the Conference Board said the consumer confidence index came in at 87.9 in January, better than most expected.

Meanwhile, the Fed's policymaking arm is convening for the start of a two-day meeting. Many observers are looking for another reduction in the fed funds rate when the Federal Open Market Committee releases its policy statement Wednesday afternoon.

One week ago, the Fed made a rare between-meeting cut, taking rates down by 75 basis points. The central bank said it made the move in light of a "weakening economic outlook and increasing downside risks to growth."

"The reasons behind the Fed's emergency inter-meeting rate cut can be debated, but the fact is it was necessary and appropriate," said Robert Pavlik, chief investment officer with Oaktree Asset Management. "Now the Fed faces another challenge, it has to get ahead of the curve and that's why today's meeting is so important. The Fed has to show that it is serious about fending off a recession."

A plethora of earnings reports were also in focus. 3M ( MMM) topped expectations by 2 cents and reiterated its 2008 earnings forecast. Embattled lender Countrywide Financial ( CFC) swung to a fourth-quarter loss amid delinquencies in one in every three subprime mortgage loans. Shares of 3M rose 58 cents, or 0.8%, at $78.02. Countrywide added 36 cents, or 6.1%, to close at $6.31.

Oil names Occidental Petroleum ( OXY) and Valero ( VLO) both beat analysts' average targets for fourth-quarter profit earnings. Occidental ended up $3.92, or 6.1%, at $68.49. Valero jumped $5.68, or 10.4%, to $60.58.

Elsewhere, Eli Lilly's ( LLY) fourth-quarter earnings rose sharply from a year earlier and beat Wall Street's forecasts, while JetBlue Airways ( JBLU) notched a fourth-quarter loss on fuel costs, although the company still topped the Thomson First Call consensus. Eli Lilly gained 91 cents, or 1.8%, to $52.31. JetBlue surged $1, or 20%, to $5.94.

Meanwhile, Dow Chemical ( DOW) posted a fourth-quarter profit that dropped 52% from a year ago but still topped expectations. Profits also fell at Pepsi Bottling Group ( PBG), but also beat Wall Street's estimates. Dow Chemical advanced 35 cents, or 0.9%, to $37.94. Pepsi Bottling slid $3.78, or 9.6%, to $35.53.

After the closing bell, Yahoo! ( YHOO), homebuilder Centex ( CTX) and transportation company C.H. Robinson Worldwide ( CHRW) are due to release earnings.

American Express ( AXP), out with results after Monday's close, posted a 10% slide in fourth-quarter earnings due to credit losses. The results matched the recently lowered Thomson First Call estimate, and shares climbed 40 cents, or 0.8%, to finish at $47.80.

U.S. Treasury prices were falling, pushing yields sharply higher. The 10-year note was down 23/32 in price, yielding 3.67%. The 30-year bond was off 1-12/32 price to yield 4.36%.

Commodity prices were mixed in a volatile session. Crude oil turned higher by 65 cents to close at $91.64 a barrel, and gold futures finished down $2 to $925.10 an ounce.

Overseas markets were higher. Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 3%, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 1%. In Europe, the Paris CAC 40 was higher by 1.9%, and London's FTSE 100 and Germany's Xetra Dax tacked on 1.3%.

Last time out, stocks in the U.S. reversed early losses prompted by weak housing data on hopes the Fed would again cut interest rates. The Dow closed up 176.72 points, or 1.45%, to 12,383.89. The S&P added 23.36 points, or 1.76%, to 1353.97, and the Nasdaq rose 23.71 points, or 1.02%, to 2349.91.