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Stocks Kick Off 2012 With a Bang, Led by Banks
CNBC.com | January 03, 2012 | 05:59 PM EST

Stocks eased off their highs in the final minutes of trading, but still finished the first trading day of 2012 with a bang, as Wall Street cheered a handful of better-than-expected economic reports from around the world.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 179.82 points, or 1.47 percent, to finish at 12,397.38, led by Alcoa and JPMorgan . McDonald's was the biggest laggard on the blue-chip index.

The S&P 500 rallied 19.46 points, or 1.55 percent, to end at 1,277.06. The Nasdaq added 43.57 points, or 1.67 percent, to close at 2,648.72.

The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, finished below 23.

Most S&P sectors ended firmly in the black, led by financials,while utilities dragged.

“Market’s feeling euphoric and focusing on the positives—we’ve had better news out of Asia and Europe,” said Kenny Polcari, managing director of ICAP Equities. “I think the euphoria stays until Jan. 9 when Sarkozy and Merkel meet [in Berlin]…and barring an implosion in Europe, we may see a bit of a rally.”

Worries over the European debt crisis, which dictated the wild market swings for most of the year, are expected to continue.

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