Stocks were off to the races Tuesday as Alcoa opened earnings season with a big beat on the top line. Around 12:30 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI ) were up 83 points to 12,476, while the S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC ) jumped 11 points to 1,292. Both measures touched their highest levels in more than five months during today's trading. A survey of small businesses also reported increasing levels of optimism for economic improvement.
Among the Dow's winners, Bank of America topped the list, but Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) was also up strongly, rising more than 2.5% in early afternoon trading. The company is building out its presence in China, investing money in an R&D center in Wuxi and starting construction on an equipment-testing area and large-wheel loader production site in Tongzhou. The stock is within striking distance of regaining the $100-per-share mark for the first time since last summer's market swoon.
Also notable was United Technologies (NYSE: UTX ) , which also rose about 2.5%. The company's Pratt & Whitney aerospace division got a $194 million contract from the Defense Department to produce engines for the F-35 Lightning II fighter. The move is another piece of evidence against worries that defense cuts will threaten the company's long-term prospects.
The biggest loser was General Electric (NYSE: GE ) , bucking the bull trend by falling almost 1%. A profit warning from Philips Electronics gave an early indicator of how weak sales are among European consumers, an area in which GE has a significant presence as well.
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