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.

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