Dow Rallies on Tech Stocks. Next Stop 12,000?

Stocks closed sharply higher Monday with the Dow Jones Industrial Average ($INDU) posting a triple-digit gain as technology stocks rallied after Intel (INTC) raised its dividend and expanded its share repurchase program by $10 billion.

The Dow rose 109 points, or 0.9%, to close at 11,981, just 19 points shy of the 12,000 level. Looking beyond Intel, traders bid up the tech sector in anticipation of other names returning more cash to shareholders. IBM (IBM), the most heavily weighted Dow stock, rose more than 2.6%.

The blue-chip index hasn't closed above 12,000 since June 2008 -- and it did so on the way down. The Dow first closed above 12,000 in October 2006. See the chart below.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite gained 28 points, or 1%, to finish at 2,718. The broader S&P 500 ($INX) rose 7 points, or 0.6%, to close at 1,291, led by a 1.4% rise in the technology sector.

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Strong earnings from Dow component McDonald's (MCD) also helped equities. The world's biggest fast-food chain said fourth-quarter net income rose 2% to match Wall Street estimates, thanks to the popularity of its McRib sandwich and the addition of Carmel Mocha to its successful McCafe coffee lineup. Revenue increased 4% to $6.21 billion.

In other corporate news, J.C. Penney (JCP) shares rallied after the department-store chain said it would close some of its department stores, call centers and outlet stores in a bid to cut costs. Additionally, Penney agreed to name as directors the activist investor William A. Ackman, founder and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, and Steven Roth, chairman of the board of Vornado Realty Trust.

Treasury bonds rose ever-so-slightly, as the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 3.41% from a previous close of 3.42%. (Bond yields and prices move in opposite directions.) Gold prices continued to soften with gold futures traded on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange (CME) losing $6.70, or 0.5%, to $1,334 an once. Benchmark crude oil traded on the Comex slipped $1.36, or 1.5%, to settle at $87.75 a barrel.

The U.S. Dollar Index, which measures the greenback against a trade-weighted basket of major currencies, fell 0.3% to 78.

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