Dow Stays Perfect in 2011

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Stocks, the dollar and commodities rose Wednesday, while treasuries sold off, as better-than-expected reports on jobs and the service industry boosted recovery expectations.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average stayed perfect in 2011, rising for a fourth consecutive session. The blue-chip index tacked on 32 points, or 0.3%, to close at 11,723, finishing just 20 points below its peak for the day. The S&P 500 added 6 points or 0.5%, to close at 1276 and the Nasdaq Composite jumped 21 points, or 0.8%, to settle at 2702.

Financials led stocks higher with Bank of America ( BAC), JPMorgan ( JPM) and American Express ( AXP) among the biggest percentage gainers in the Dow, which saw 18 of its 30 components move higher.

Walt Disney ( DIS) was another notable performer on the Dow, gaining 2.6% to $39.99 on a host of analyst upgrades .

Intel ( INTC) , Home Depot ( HD) and Travelers ( TRV) were among the Dow's worst performers.

The dollar strengthened against a basket of currencies with the dollar index up by 1%. The benchmark 10-year Treasury note weakened 1 5/32, lifting the yield to 3.481%.

Commodities bounced off early lows with the February crude oil contract rising 1% to settle at $90.30 a barrel after the Energy Department reported a greater than expected drawdown in crude oil inventories. The February gold contract shed $5.1 to $1373.7 an ounce.

The New York Stock Exchange saw volume of 555 million while 1.3 billion changed hands on the Nasdaq. Overall market breadth was slightly weighted to the positive with 54% of stocks on the NYSE advancing and 44% trading lower.

The latest jobs data from Automatic Data Processing fueled investor optimism ahead of the Labor Department's nonfarm payrolls report on Friday. Also, Republican John Boehner took over as speaker of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, raising hopes for a more business-friendly Congress.

ADP's employment change report showed that the private sector added 297,000 jobs in December , which was more than double the increase of 100,000 positions that economists had expected. In November, the ADP report showed growth of 92,000.

In addition, outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas said layoffs for the month fell to their lowest level since 1997 as job cuts of 32,004 in December represented a decline of 34% from November and a drop of 29% from the same month a year ago.

"There has been anecdotal evidence that companies are starting to hire," says T.C. Robillard, a managing director at Signal Hill Capital who covers temporary staffing companies. "There is no uncertainty on Congress and about taxes. That has got companies feeling better."

Robillard says investors should take the month-to-month volatility in the jobs numbers with a grain of salt and instead focus on the overall trend. " The focal point is going to be consistency in net positive job creation. Once we start to get to the second half, we can look at absolute numbers."

Despite the latest data, economists remain cautious in their estimate for Friday, as the ADP report has often diverged significantly from the Labor Department's estimates. The Labor Department is expected to say that the economy added 135,000 jobs in December, led by private sector job growth of 145,000, and that the unemployment rate ticked down to 9.7%, from 9.8%, according to Briefing.com.

On Thursday, the market will get jobless claims data for the week ended Jan. 1. Wall Street is expecting initial claims to rise to 405,000, from 388,000, previously, according to Briefing.com.

The view of services sector got a boost as the Institute for Supply Management's non-manufacturing survey rose to a reading of 57.1 in December . The level outpaced the reading of 55.7 that Wall Street had been projecting, according to Briefing.com. In November, the ISM said services activity came in at 55.

In corporate news, shares of AIG ( AIG) surged 7.3% to $60.95 on reports that it had been offered nearly $3 billion for its Taiwan insurance unit since it put the unit on the block in September.

Tech M&A was back in focus as Qualcomm ( QCOM) agreed to buy semiconductor company Atheros Communications ( ATHR) for $45 per share, or an enterprise value of $3.1 billion. Shares of Atheros were up by 1.4% to $44.64 and Qualcomm's stock gained 2% to $52.03.

Shares of Autodesk ( ADSK) were up 7% to $41.24 after Goldman Sachs upgraded the software company to buy from neutral while Alcoa's ( AA) stock was ticking up to $16.50 despite a downgrade to hold from buy at Citigroup.

Family Dollar Stores ( FDO) saw its stock slump 8.7% to $44.99 after it reported first-quarter net earnings of 58 cents per share on sales of $1.99 billion . Analysts had been expecting a per-share profit of 61 cents on sales of $1.98 billion.

Shares of Mosaic ( MOS) were up 2.8% to $77.13 after the crop nutrients company beat second-quarter profit expectations late Thursday and said 2011 market conditions appear strong.

Shares of Boyd Gaming ( BYD) jumped 8.7% to $11.65 on an upgrade to overweight from Barclays Capital.

NVIDIA ( NVDA) also saw its shares rise by 7.6% to $16.98 on an upgrade to overweight from Barclays Capital.

J.Crew ( JCG) was in the news on a Bloomberg report that Sears ( SHLD) and Urban Outfitters ( URBN) were making bids on the company. Shares were up 2.3% at $44.04.

Evergreen Energy ( EEE) was the NYSE's top gainer, up 59% to $1.15 per share while biopharmaceutical company Opexa Therapeutics ( OPXA) topped the Nasdaq, moving 54% higher to $2.40 after the company said it received positive feedback from the Food and Drug Administration regarding its development program for a multiple sclerosis therapy called Tovaxin.

Overseas, Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.4% while Japan's Nikkei declined 0.2%. London's FTSE added 0.5% while the DAX in Frankfurt lost 0.5%.

--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.