Traders and a specialist look up to check prices as...

Traders and a specialist look up to check prices as upbeat news about retail sales and the economy propelled stocks to new highs during trading Tuesday. (March 13, 2012) Credit: AP

Bank stocks turbocharged a rally across the financial markets Tuesday, and all three major stock indexes posted their biggest gains of the year. The Dow Jones industrial average rose almost 218 points to its highest close since Dec. 31, 2007.

The Nasdaq composite closed above 3,000 for the first time since December 2000, when dot-com stocks were collapsing.

There was plenty of good news driving the market higher: Retail sales in February increased the most since September, and the Federal Reserve said it expected the unemployment rate to keep falling.

The market soared in the final hour after JPMorgan Chase, the country's largest bank by assets, said it plans to buy back up to $15 billion of its stock and raise its quarterly dividend by a nickel to 30 cents per share.

JPMorgan said it was acting with the blessing of the Federal Reserve, which was preparing to announce the results of a review to make sure banks have enough cash to withstand a financial crisis worse than what happened in 2008.

That "really made the day," said Jeffrey Kleintop, chief market strategist at LPL Financial.

JPMorgan Chase stock soared 7 percent; other banks followed. The Dow finished at 13,177.68; the Standard & Poor's 500 was up 24.86 points to 1,395.95 -- AP

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Rain continues … Hall of Fame player Bill Walton dies … Athlete's comeback Credit: Newsday

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