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Updated Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 07:47 PM

Stocks gain on optimism that a budget deal is near

By STEVE ROTHWELL
AP Business Writer

Stocks climbed on Wall Street Tuesday, pushing the Standard and Poor's 500 to its highest level in two months, on optimism that lawmakers are closing in on a budget deal that will stop the U.S. from going over the "fiscal cliff" at the beginning of next year.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 115.57 points to 13,350.96, its biggest one-day gain in almost a month. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 16.43 points to 1,446.79, its highest close since Oct. 18. The Nasdaq composite rose 43.93 points to 3,054.53.

House Speaker John Boehner told reporters he remains hopeful that a fiscal cliff compromise can be reached, but says President Barack Obama has yet to offer a balanced deficit-cutting plan. Boehner said Obama's latest offer for $1.3 trillion in tax increases over the next decade with $850 billion in spending cuts is not enough. The White House says that President Obama has moved halfway to meet Boehner on a budget deal.

"People are cheering the prospect for some compromise in Washington right now," said Joe Costigan, director of equity research at Bryn Mawr Trust Co. "At the moment there is some pretty good news and the market is reacting favorably to it, but the deal isn't done yet."

Stocks slumped after the presidential election Nov. 6 on concern that a divided government would struggle to reach an agreement before Jan. 1, when a series of series of tax increases and government spending cuts are scheduled to take effect if no deal is reached. Those measures could push the U.S. back into recession. The S&P 500 has since recouped all of those losses.

Some investors say stocks are already pricing in too much optimism. Any deal, while ensuring that the economy avoids the full impact of the "fiscal cliff," will still involve higher taxes and less government spending. That will be a drag on economic growth, said David Wright, a managing director and co-founder at Sierra Investment Management in Santa Monica, Calif.

"There are just too many naive people thinking that the agreement itself is a significant event - it isn't," Wright said. "The implementation is going to be negative for the economy."

Stocks added to their gains after the Standard & Poor's rating agency said at midday that it had raised Greece's credit grade by six notches to B-, lifting the country out of default. The threat of a Greek default had roiled markets in the first half of this year. Investors worried that the heavily indebted nation would leave the euro, opening the way for a break-up of the currency block. The ratings firm said the upgrade reflected its view that the other 16 countries using the euro are determined to keep the Greece inside the currency union.

The Dow Jones is up 2.5 percent in December and is on track to close higher for a fourth straight year. The index has advanced 9 percent in 2012. The S&P 500 is also up for the year, gaining 15 percent.

Allstate Corp. gained 56 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $41.35 after the company's board of directors approved a plan to buy back up to $1 billion of the insurer's shares by the end of the year.

Eli Lilly also advanced after saying it would buy back its own stock. The drugmaker rose $1.18, or 2.4 percent, to $49.52 after saying that its board had approved a $1.5 billion share buyback.

Apple gained $15.07, or 2.9 percent, to $533.90. Samsung Electronics Co. said it had withdrawn its requests to have sales of certain Apple products banned in Europe, though the company is still suing Apple over the use of certain technology licenses.

Apple has rebounded in the last two days. It closed at its lowest in 10 months Dec. 14 as investors worried that intensifying competition in the smartphone market would erode Apple's profit margins.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note climbed 5 basis points to 1.82 percent. The yield on the note has risen 20 basis points since the start of December.

Among stocks making big moves today;

- Arbitron, a provider of radio ratings, surged $8.99, or 24 percent, to $47.03 after TV ratings company Nielsen said it would buy it for about $1.26 billion.

- FactSet Research Systems Inc., a provider of financial information to investors, fell $4.20, or 4.4 percent, to $92.19 after it reported earnings and revenues that fell short of analysts' estimates.


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