updated 3/31/2004 9:15:10 AM ET 2004-03-31T14:15:10

Anticipation over a strong earnings season and hopes for a good March employment report later this week sent stock indices higher in a late afternoon rally Tuesday, with the Nasdaq composite index closing above 2,000 for the first time since March 8.

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Analysts pointed to a continuing stream of earnings outlooks, many of which promised better-than-expected results when quarterly reports start coming out next week.

However, the light volume in Tuesday’s session meant that many investors preferred to wait until Friday’s job creation figures before making any big moves, analysts said.

“We’re just taking a breather here, and that’s perfectly normal,” said Bill Groenveld, head trader for vFinance Investments. “But with everything you’ve got going on with the economy and earnings, once the employment numbers come in on Friday, everything is going to rally.”

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 52.07 points, or 0.5 percent, to 10,381.70. It was the second straight day of gains for the Dow, which has advanced in three of the past four sessions.

Broader stock market indices also gained ground Tuesday. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index rose 4.53 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,127.00, while the Nasdaq composite index, full of technology stocks, rose 8.06 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,000.63.

The Nasdaq was in negative ground for most of the day until a rally caught up to the tech sector. While the 2,000 level means little on a fundamental basis, it is seen as a psychological boost for many investors who were nervous about falling prices in recent weeks.

The latest Conference Board consumer confidence index reading, released Tuesday morning, did not move the markets initially.

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The group’s March consumer confidence index stood at 88.3, down from 88.5 in February. While the reading was better than expected, it showed consumer confidence is still lagging.

“It’s not moving up aggressively, but it also didn’t crater in the month, so it really didn’t have an impact today,” said Stuart Freeman, chief equity strategist for A.G. Edwards & Sons. “It’s going to take continuing signs of some employment growth as we move through the next few months, signs that energy prices will stabilize, for that number to move on the way upward.”

Accenture Ltd. gained 40 cents to $24.45 after posting better-than-expected earnings. The consulting company also announced that chief executive Joe Forehand will relinquish his post Sept. 1, but will remain chairman of the company.

The European Union approved Johnson & Johnson’s bid to buy out Merck & Co.’s stake in their joint venture, which sells non-prescription drugs from the two companies in Europe. Merck will continue to receive royalties from a number of products. Johnson & Johnson slipped 15 cents to $50.42, and Merck fell 47 cents to $44.10.

Intergraph Corp. jumped $3.28, or 16 percent, to $23.67 after announcing it has settled legal disputes with Intel Corp. and Dell Inc. over microprocessor patents. Intergraph will receive $225 million from Intel over the next year. Intel fell 26 cents to $27.43, while Dell was up 4 cents at $33.92.

Boeing Co. received much-needed good news regarding its contract to sell 100 tankers to the Air Force for $23.5 billion. While the Air Force inspector general said significant questions remain about the acquisition, there was “no compelling reason” to block the deal. Boeing was up 41 cents at $40.34.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by nearly 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.30 billion shares, compared to 1.37 billion on Monday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 6.01 points, or 1 percent, to 589.40.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average slid 0.2 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 closed 0.1 percent higher, France’s CAC-40 was down 0.4 percent for the session and Germany’s DAX index fell 0.2 percent.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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