In this Feb. 17, 2012 photo, specialist Peter Giacchi, center, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Markets reacted cautiously Tuesday, Feb, 21, 2012, to the news that Greece finally secured its second massive bailout in less than two years, which is aimed at giving the debt-ridden country the breathing room to enact widespread economic reforms and set it back on the path to growth and prosperity. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Update (3 p.m.): Just before 3 p.m. EST, the Dow was down 20 points at 12,929. The Standard & Poor's 500, a broader measure of the market, was down two points at 1,359. The Nasdaq composite index was down 16 at 2,935.
The Dow passed 13,000 about two hours into the trading day, then quickly dropped back. Its last time above 13,000 during a trading day was May 20, 2008, four months before the Lehman Brothers investment bank went under.
U.S. stocks got help from a long-awaited bailout deal for Greece, aimed at preventing a potentially catastrophic default, and from strong corporate earnings reports at home.
Just after 11:30 a.m. EST, the Dow was up 41 points at 12,990. In other trading, the Standard & Poor's 500 was up five points at 1,366. The Nasdaq composite index was up 10 points at 2,962.
The last time the Dow was above 13,000, the unemployment rate was 5.4 percent, far below today's 8.3 percent. The Great Recession was six months old, with the worst still to come.
The 13,000 level is a psychological milepost, but in a market built on perception, it could influence more cautious investors to pump more money back into the stock market, analysts said.
"You need notches along the way to measure things, and that's as good as any," said John Manley, chief equity strategist for Wells Fargo's funds group. "Is 50 older than 49 and a half? Yes, by six months. Do those six months really make a difference? Probably not. But it does give us a fixed point, something we can look at."
Just last summer, the Dow unburdened itself of 2,000 points in three terrifying weeks. It fell as low as 10,655 in the fall, after a downgrade of the United States credit rating and a fight over the federal government's borrowing limit.
The 13,000 marker is a 22 percent rally from that low. The Dow is within 1,200 points of its all-time closing high — 14,164, set Oct. 9, 2007.