Dow rallies on economic news; climbs 65 pts in new quarter

Stocks rose on Monday to kick off the first day of the third quarter with a modest rally, boosted by a pair of better-than-expected economic reports.

Traders said the S&P 500 was hitting an area of resistance around its 50-day moving average of 1,624. Meanwhile, protest in Egypt also put pressure on the market.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which at one point in the day was 150 higher, eased back to close up 65 points, at 14,974.96, led by United Tech and American Express.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also rallied. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, slipped near 16.

Most key S&P sectors were higher, led by materials and techs, while utilities slipped.

Major averages closed higher for the second quarter and the Dow posted its strongest first-half performance of any year since 1999. So far for the year, the Dow has surged more than 14 percent, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq have spiked more than 13 percent each.

"History is a little bit in our favor—when you have a good first-half, the second half tends to show some follow through, but this may be a difficult year to figure out because we'll have the lag of sequestration, everyone trying to figure out where the Fed is going," said Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS Financial Services.

(Read More: For Stocks, Last 6 Months Could Be Tough to Match)

On the economic front, manufacturing activity edged higher in June to 50.9, according to the Institute for Supply Management, a hair above expectations for 50.5. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the sector. However, hiring in the sector fell to the lowest since September 2009.

And construction spending rose 0.5 percent in May to an annual rate of $874.9 billion, rising to its highest level in nearly four years, according to the Commerce Department.

(Read More:The Market's Next Worry? The June Jobs Report)

Japanese shares were boosted by a survey which showed corporate sentiment had turned positive for the first time in two years, as optimism about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's radical stimulus policies offset concerns about recent market volatility.

"The risk is that the economy may be doing well enough that it actually dis-incentivizes the drive for structural reform. That would certainly lead to a dampening of market sentiment," said Alistair Newton, senior political analyst at Nomura.

(Read More: Will the Strong Tankan Send Abenomics Off Course?)

However, data from China showed that industrial activity continued to decline in June, amid concerns about overcapacity and weak demand.

"I think the story for China is basically that there is not any story left. Economic activity has peaked and we think that data will surprise on the downside," said Sailesh Jha, chief strategist at Arcus Capital Singapore.

This week will be an extremely light on earnings, ahead of the official start of the second quarter earnings season on July 4. No major companies are expected to report results before the start of trade on Monday.

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