NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks finished in the positive territory Tuesday as European debt concerns eased and fourth-quarter reporting season got off to a promising start.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 34 points, or 0.3%, to close at 11,672. Earlier in the session, the index, which had fallen in the three prior sessions, ran as high as 11,704. The S&P 500 tacked on 5 points, or 0.4%, to settle at 1274, and the Nasdaq Composite gained 9 points, or 0.3%, at 2717.

Conglomerates and energy stocks were among the top performers. American Express ( AXP), Bank of America ( BAC), Chevron ( CVX), Home Depot ( HD), Intel ( INTC) and Wal-Mart Stories ( WMT) were the biggest percentage gainers within Dow. Intel is slated to report its quarterly results on Thursday, followed by numbers from JPMorgan Chase ( JPM), the first of the big money-center banks to open its books, on Friday. Telecoms Verizon ( VZ) and AT&T ( T) were the blue-chip index's biggest laggards as Verizon announced it would offer Apple's iPhone.

Eighteen of the Dow's 30 components closed higher.

Alcoa ( AA) was also one of the Dow's poorest performers despite reporting better-than-expected earnings of 21 cents per share on sales of $5.65 billion late Monday. Analysts had been calling for a profit of 20 cents on sales of $5.68 billion. Shares were down 0.9% at $16.33.

As the first Dow component to report, Alcoa's release kicked off an earnings season of high expectations as Wall Street is forecasting year-over-year earnings growth of more than 30% for the fourth quarter, according to recent data from Thomson Reuters.

Overall market breadth was slightly positive with 60% of the stocks trading on the NYSE advancing.

Stocks opened the day stronger after concerns about eurozone debt crisis eased. Japan said it may buy more than 20% of debt issued by the European Financial Stability Facility on the same day that the European Central Bank bought government bonds for a second consecutive day.

The European Union governments are also discussing proposals to increase the $570 billion bailout fund.

Better-than-expected results from Sears ( SHLD) and Tiffany ( TIF) also helped lift markets.

Paul Nolte, managing director at Dearborn Partners, said the handful of earnings results so far have been good but not overly impressive. "They were not rousing beats of estimates," Nolte said. "There is still not a lot of top-line growth. Companies are still beating through margins. They are yet to start hiring. When they do, I expect margins to contract a bit."

937 million shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, while 1.8 billion shares changed hands on the Nasdaq.

In Tuesday's earnings news, supermarket operator Supervalu ( SVU) reported adjusted earnings of 24 cents per share, missing analysts' estimates for earnings of 32 cents. The company also lowered its fiscal 2011 earnings guidance to an adjusted profit of $1.25 to $1.35 per share from its previous range of $1.40 to $1.60 a share. Shares plunged 11.6% at $7.59.
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Homebuilder Lennar ( LEN) said per-share earnings fell to 17 cents from 19 cents a year ago as sales dropped 6% to $860.1 million. Analysts had been projecting a profit of 3 cents on sales of $759.8 million. The stock jumped 7.9% at $20.24.

Shares of Apollo Group ( APOL) made a strong rebound after Monday's plunge after it reported better-than-expected results after the bell on Monday. The stock shot up 14% to $40.74.

Bond insurer MBIA ( MBI) saw its stock zoom 21% to $14.86 after a panel of New York judges ruled that the company's restructuring plan was legal.

Shares of Advanced Micro Devices ( AMD) shed 9% to $8.36 after Dirk Meyer unexpectedly resigned as company president and CEO. AMD said Meyer resigned by "mutual agreement" with the board.

Medical device company Stryker ( SYK) jumped 6% to $58.00 after it said it expects 2010 earnings to reach $3.31 to $3.33 a share, above the company's earlier forecast of $3.27 to $3.30 a share.

Tiffany was down 0.6% to $60.56, off its day's high of $62.81. The company expects strong sales of its more expensive fine jewelry collection and raised its full-year guidance.

Shares of Sears Holdings were up 6.3% to $75 after the parent company of Kmart and Sears said it would beat estimates for the fourth quarter and full year. The retailer also said it expects earnings for the fourth quarter ending Jan. 29 of $3.39 to $4.12 per share, compared with the profit of $3.09 that analysts were projecting.

Shares of AnnTaylor ( ANN) fell 6% to $22.64, largely in sympathy with smaller rival Talbots ( TLB), which warned of a wider than expect loss for the fourth quarter and saw its stock drop more than 15%.

The stock of Cheesecake Factory ( CAKE) tumbled 7.5% to $28.90 after the casual dining chain offered disappointing preliminary fourth-quarter sales figures. Cheesecake said unaudited revenue for its fiscal fourth quarter, ended Dec. 28, was $417 million, up from $401 million in the year-earlier period.

The single shred of economic data offered up Tuesday was disappointing. The Department of Commerce said wholesale inventories dipped 0.2% in November after rising by 1.7% in October. According to Briefing.com, economists had been expecting growth of 1%.

In commodity markets, the February crude oil contract gained $1.86 to settle at $91.11 a barrel, a day ahead of the weekly crude oil inventory report on Wednesday.

Oil inventories are expected to drop by 300,000 barrels in the week ended Jan. 7, according to a Platts survey. The February gold contract was up by $10.20 to settle at $1,384.30 an ounce.

The dollar was flat against a basket of currencies with the dollar index up by 0.03%. The benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell 13/32, lifting the yield to 3.336%. Bond price decline was stemmed by the auction of $32 billion in three-year notes.

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Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.4% while Japan's Nikkei shed 0.3%. London's FTSE gained 1%, and the DAX in Frankfurt rose 1.2%.

-- 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.

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