Stocks posted a big rally early, and traded tightly afterwards to hold on to major gains. But first, the scoreboard:

Dow: 12,397.4, +179.82, +1.47%

S&P 500: 1,277.1, +19.46, +1.55%

NASDAQ: 2,648.7, +43.57, +1.67%

Here are your top stories:

  • The first big data releases of the year—ISM manufacturing and construction spending—smashed expectations when they came out this morning. ISM manufacturing rose more than a point for December to 53.9, beating expectations of 53.4. Construction spending posted an even bigger gain—growing 1.2% versus an expected 0.4%.
  • Blackstone Vice Chairman Byron Wien came out with his highly anticipated 10 predictions for 2012 today. Among his forecasts: the price of oil falls below $85 per barrel, U.S. GDP growth exceeds 3%, and EU leaders get their act together to develop a long-lasting plan for the eurozone. See all 10 of Byron Wien’s predictions >
  • The Financial Post reported that Research In Motion’s executive board could strip CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsille of some of their power. The troubled phone manufacturer also announced a sale that cuts the price of the Blackberry PlayBook by as much as $400.
  • Phil Falcone’s troubled telecom venture LightSquared Inc. appointed telecom aficionado Mark Montagner as its new CFO. Montagner will be tasked with finding capital sufficient to keep the company afloat despite worries that it could run out of cash by the end of the second quarter. Click here to see how fabulous Phil Falcone’s life has been thus far>>
  • Stories about Greece leaving the euro circulated today, however markets didn’t seem to care. BBC wrote that the country is threatening to leave the euro if it doesn’t get the next round of bailout aid, and the Italian Linkiesta reported that EU leaders will “informally” talk about a Greek exit at the next EU summit. Now Read: EUROPE—This Is What Will Happen In 2012 >
  • Minutes from the December FOMC meeting showed that Bernanke and friends are about to stage a game-changing communications policy. Under the new policy, the Fed will release a long-term interest rate forecast for investors, allowing investors to more accurately gauge monetary policy.
  • Iowans will start casting ballots at 8PM CT tonight in the first caucus of the Republican primary. It’s likely that at least one candidate could drop out after disappointing results, and political analysts are speculating that Mitt Romney might just pull off a win. Now for THE TRUTH ABOUT IOWA: This Is What Voters REALLY Think Of The Candidates >
  • Bank stocks made major gains, leading off the rally today. Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and J.P. Morgan were all up over 5%, most even more than that.
  • DON’T MISS: The 10 Biggest Risks The World Is Facing In 2012

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