Within the blue-chip average, Bank of America ( BAC), JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) and Intel ( INTC) finished within a pack of stocks leading Dow advancers.

"Those are all early-cycle sectors that tend to perform better as the economy picks up steam, and there are signs that the economy is improving -- it's just not hitting on all cylinders yet," Pavlik said. "But if you wait for the job market to turn around, you're going to miss these gains in the market because the job market lags economic improvement."

Boeing shares made the sharpest rise on average, adding 3.3% to $70.01.

Citigroup shares were the most heavily traded on the New York Stock Exchange, followed by Bank of America and Sprint Nextel ( S).

The NYSE had a listed volume of nearly 5.5 billion, while the Dow saw volume of 185.8 million, compared with an average of 200.4 million.

Earlier in the day, the Department of Commerce reported an unexpected 0.2% decline in January wholesale inventories, though sales continued showing strength. Pavlik said lower inventories could be interpreted as a positive sign for future growth.

"With inventories low, any increase in demand going forward will mean better growth for future inventories," he said.

The U.S. Treasury's $21 billion auction of 10-year notes showed strong demand, nabbing a high yield of 3.735% with an above-average bid-to-cover ratio of 3.45. Indirect bidders, or foreign buyers, took 35% of the bids while direct bidders took 17.5%.

Prices across U.S. Treasuries weakened, lifting yields across maturities. The benchmark 10-year's note fell 5/32, raising the yield to 3.718%. The two-year note dropped 2/32, strengthening the yield to 0.907%; the 30-year fell 8/32, raising the yield to 4.688%.

Earlier, China said exports rose 45.7% in February , and imports grew 44.7%. However, the robust growth, which was even stronger than expected, raised some fears that China could increase tightening.

Shares of Facet Biotech ( FACT) rose $10.80, or 66.7%, to $27.01 on news that Abbott Laboratories ( ABT) would acquire the company for $27 a share, or roughly $450 million.

Toyota ( TM) incentives such as no-interest loans and free maintenance lifted North American sales by roughly 50% since the beginning of March, despite safety recalls on more than 6 million U.S. vehicles. Still, concerns about unintended acceleration in the company's Prius model continued Tuesday on a new accident report in New York.

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