By Kate Gibson, MarketWatch
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks on Tuesday climbed to their highest level since September 2008 on a deal to extend Bush-era tax cuts, but the rise was tempered as the U.S. dollar gained.
"The market has been led by basic materials and oil, and when the dollar goes down, commodities and other dollar-denominated assets like equities go up. So the market tends to fade when the dollar strengthens," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Jefferies & Co.
The greenback turned higher against other currencies, especially the euro, as the Irish parliament readied to vote on the harshest austerity budget in Ireland's history. Read more on Ireland.
The major indexes had maintained healthy gains for much of the day as Wall Street embraced President Obama's decision to compromise on tax cuts.
"Today the market is bidding itself up on the tax deal and what was above expectations in terms of what came out," said Linda Duessel, equity strategist at Federated Investors.
More than 70 points off its session high, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) was lately up 16.46 points, or 0.1%, to 11,378.65.
Of the Dow's 30 components, 19 were up, led by General Electric Co. (GE), up 2.4%.
The S&P 500 (SPX) climbed 2.83 points, or 0.2%, to 1,225.95, with industrials pacing gains that included all 10 of the index's industry groups.
The Nasdaq Composite (RIXF) rose 7.34 points, or 0.3%, to 2,602.25.
Advancers edged just ahead of decliners on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume topped 1 billion as of 3:40 p.m. Eastern.
Commodity prices started higher but reversed course, with crude slipping below $90 a barrel after breaking through that level for the first time in 26 months and gold falling $7.1 to finish at $1,409 an ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Late Monday, President Barack Obama announced a deal to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the higher-income bracket as well as middle-class Americans for two years. The agreement, which still must be sold to congressional Democrats, had Obama compromising on rates for the wealthiest Americans in exchange for a $120 billion break on payroll taxes and the extension of unemployment benefits. .
"The two-year extension was expected, but we didn't expect the payroll tax cut or the accelerated depreciation," said Duessel.
The tax-cut deal spurred thinking among investors that another roadblock hindering economic recovery had been removed, said Robert Pavlik, chief investment officer at Banyan Partners.
"I don't necessarily agree," said Pavlik, who expressed doubts about whether the tax break would drive those in the upper-income bracket to buy more holiday sweaters or flat-screen TVs.
While dubious about changing the behavior of "the guy earning $250,000 because he's working on an investment-banker deal," the tax proposal will help the small-business owner being treated as a corporation, Pavlik said.
Solid earnings from companies including AutoZone Inc. (AZO) also lifted sentiment, and "the fact that the government is removing themselves from Citigroup added another generally positive note for the market," Pavlik said.
AutoZone on Tuesday reported quarterly earnings that topped estimates, with the auto-parts chain benefiting from the downturn that had many car owners resorting to repairs instead of buying a new vehicle.
Late Monday, the Treasury Department said it had reached an agreement to sell about $2.4 billion in shares of Citigroup Inc. (C) common stock, its remaining holdings in the bank.
In the end, taxpayers will make a $12 billion profit on the federal bailout of Citigroup, which drew $45 billion in taxpayer support in late 2008 in a bailout begun under the Bush administration.
On Tuesday, 3M Co. (MMM) hiked its earnings forecast for 2011, with the industrial conglomerate and Dow component saying it also expects to expand through acquisitions.
And, China's official newspaper on Tuesday said the country would likely boost interest rates in the coming days in a continuing effort to tame inflation.