Telecommunications companies led a broad stock rally Wednesday following a report that private companies are continuing to add workers.
All ten sectors of the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 index rose. AT&T Inc. led the 30 stocks that make up the Dow Jones industrial average with a 2.2 percent gain.
The Dow gained 71.60 points, or 0.6 percent, to 12,350.61. The S&P index rose 8.82, or 0.7 percent, to 1,328.26. The Nasdaq composite rose 19.90, or 0.7 percent, to 2,776.79.
The ADP National Employment Report said 201,000 new private sector jobs were added in March. That is roughly in line with the 210,000 analysts had expected. Investors were encouraged by a strong gain in small business hiring, said Ryan Detrick, a strategist at Schaeffer's Investment Research.
The report showed "that things are not as bleak as they seemed a few weeks ago," Detrick said.
The ADP report is seen as a precursor to the government's March payrolls report due Friday, but the two reports don't always paint the same picture of the overall labor market.
Cephalon Inc. surged 28 percent, the most of any stock in the S&P index, after Valeant Pharmaceuticals International offered to take over the biopharmaceutical company for $5.7 billion in cash. Valeant, based in Canada, rose 12 percent. The takeover bid is the latest in a string of deal-related news, another positive sign for investors.
"It shows that companies still think there are some good deals out there," said Detrick. "If they are willing to pay a premium, that's a good sign for the overall stock market."
The market plodded higher against a backdrop of unsettling international news. Concerns about European debt loomed as Portugal moved closer to needing a bailout and Spain's central bank forecast a lower growth rate and higher deficit than previously predicted.
Seawater near Japan's crippled nuclear facility tested at its highest radiation levels yet and the plant's owner publicly acknowledged that four of six nuclear reactors would have to be decommissioned. In Libya, NATO forces initiated a new wave of airstrikes against Gadhafi's troops.
Asset manager BlackRock Inc. gained 6.6 percent after Standard & Poor's said the company will replace Genzyme Corp in the S&P 500 index after the close of trading on Friday.
PPG Industries Inc. gained 5.9 percent after the industrial chemical company announced that its income forecast was well above Wall Street expectations.
Three stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume came to 3.9 billion shares.