Stocks Rising Today; Asian, European Markets Provide Boost, Alcoa Results Also Add Support

Stocks are broadly higher today, with U.S. equities rising following strong advances in the European and Asian markets along with an optimistic start last night to the company earnings reporting period. Several economic reports released today are mildly supportive as well.

Shares of Alcoa Inc ( AA ) -- traditionally the first of the S&P 500 companies to report its quarterly results -- are up about 1% at mid-day after the aluminum producer last night reported an $0.18 per share Q4 loss from continuing operations, largely in line with recently revised Street forecasts. The $6 billion in revenues at Alcoa during the quarter topped estimates.

In economic indicators released today, small-business optimism rose in December for the fourth consecutive month, according to the National Federation of Independent Business in its monthly survey. Optimism rose 1.8 points, settling at 93.8 last month and representing a 5.7-point gain since September. Despite the extended advance, the industry group cautioned that the total reading remains in recession territory.

Also, inventories at U.S. wholesalers rose 0.1% in November, following a revised 1.2% gain in October, the Commerce Department reported today. Economists had projected a 0.5% rise, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. Sales climbed 0.6% in November, the agency said.

There were 3.2 million job openings on the last business day of November, unchanged from the end of October, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The hires rate was 3.2% and the separations rate was 3.0%, also little changed over the month although the job openings rate has trended upward since the end of the recession in June 2009.

In company news:

Yum! Brands ( YUM ) has hit a new year high today amid reports the company is set to expand its KFC outlets into seven more countries across Africa in 2012 and add 100 stores on the continent. Pizza Hut, another Yum brand, expects to enter South Africa this year or next, according to the MarketWatchreport.

Life Technologies ( LIFE ) is picking up considerable support day, with shares rising after unveiling its Benchtop Ion Proton Sequencer at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The new device is designed to decode a human genome in one day for $1,000.

Commodities also are higher. February gold contracts are up $31.00 to $1,638.00 an ounce, while February crude oil contracts are ahead $1.52 to $102.81 a barrel.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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