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Dow jumps 100 points; S&P nears record high

Stocks closed near their best levels Tuesday, with the Dow posting a new closing high and S&P 500 finishing less than 2 points from its closing high, lifted by a handful of encouraging economic reports that pointed to an improving economy and as investors seemed to temporarily overlook worries in the euro zone.

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared more than 100 points, led by Boeing and American Express, wiping out all of the previous session's losses.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also finished near session highs. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, slumped below 13.

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All key S&P sectors were ended in positive territory, led by health care and energy.

"From a fundamental perspective, while the dominant domestic theme has heretofore been better-than-expected economic data boosting investor confidence in the earnings outlook, despite sluggish first-quarter guidance and fears of fiscal drag, many are now beginning to lock in gains realizing that the flipside of stronger growth is that QE tapering is potentially drawing closer, Chairman Bernanke's assurances to the contrary notwithstanding," wrote Alec Young, global equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ. "After all, markets are forward looking."

In Europe, Fitch put Cyprus on rating watch negative, saying the shock from the country's banking system could damage the domestic economy and thus public finances. But Wall Street was unfazed by the announcement.

Banks in Cyprus will be closed until Thursday, and will then be subject to capital controls to prevent a run on deposits. Cyprus's Finance Minister Michael Sarris told BBC radio big depositors in Cypriot banks could lose about 40 percent of their deposits but an exact figure had yet to be decided. Banks are due to reopen on Thursday and will be subject to capital controls to prevent a run on deposits.

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Still, investors seemed less fazed over Cyprus. European shares ended higher, snapping their thee-day losing streak.

"We're more optimistic about Cyprus than we were a couple days ago, but it's going to continue to be unpredictable and if nothing else, even if it does get resolved, it's a reminder of just how fragile the situation in Europe is," said Matthew Kaufler, portfolio manager of the Federated Clover Fund of the day's economic data.

Goldman Sachs rose after the financial giant and Berkshire Hathaway amended the warrants Berkshire holds as part of the lifeline it gave Goldman during the financial crisis.

Meanwhile the Federal Reserve ordered Citigroup to improve its anti-money laundering controls, after several units of the bank were subject to similar orders in 2012.

Netflix rallied to lead the S&P 500 gainers after Pacific Crest raised its price target on the movie-streaming company to $225 from $160.

Apple fluctuated after Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster called consensus estimates for the tech giant's March and June quarters too high, but said new product launches mean investors will look to the second half of the year for opportunity. In addition, Munster said he believes Apple will increase its dividend to around $14 a share from the current $10.60.

Boeing said the first round test of its new battery system for its 787 Dreamliner went according to plan, putting the jet one step closer to returning to service.

Children's Place slumped after the kids' apparel retailer issued a downbeat earnings outlook for the current quarter and fiscal year.

On the economic front, the S&P/Case Shiller home price 20-city index soared 8.1 percent compared to a year ago, kicking off the year with the biggest year-over-year increase since 2006. But new home sales declined 4.6 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 411,000 units, according to the Commerce Department, missing estimates. Homebuilders were in the red, led by Beazer and DR Horton.

Consumer confidence index dropped in March, according to the Conference Board as Americans turned more pessimistic about economic prospects in the short term.

But durable goods orders climbed in February as demand for transportation equipment rebounded, according to the Commerce Department, topping expectations.

"It's been a mixed bag and a continuation of what we've seen all along," said Kaufler. "The key takeaway is that the economy is on the mend, but in a very slow way…it's a slow grind."

Treasurys eased their gains after the government auctioned $35 billion in 2-year notes at a high yield of 0.255 percent. The bid-to-cover ratio, an indicator of demand, was 3.27.

—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)