NEW YORK - Stocks started December on a strong note, helped by improving economic data from Japan and Europe as well as hopes that the European Central Bank will expand its stimulus program. Trading remained relatively quiet ahead of the release Friday of the U.S. government's monthly jobs survey and a Federal Reserve meeting this month.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 168.43 points, or 1 percent, to 17,888.35. The Nasdaq composite rose 47.64 points, or 0.9 percent, to 5,156.31. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 22.22 points, or 1.1 percent, to 2,102.63.

Financial stocks were among the biggest gainers Tuesday, helped by the prospect of higher interest rates. Banks are more profitable when interest rates rise because they can charge more to lend. JPMorgan Chase rose 93 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $67.61. Goldman Sachs rose $3.05, or 1.6 percent, to $193.07. Bank of America rose 38 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $17.81.

Investors are keyed into both the ECB and the Fed this month. Policy decisions from both central banks will be important in determining the fate of the market in the last month of 2015.

"As it has been most of this year, central banks are still running the show," said Samantha Azzarello, global market strategist at JPMorgan Funds.

The ECB will decide Thursday whether to expand its stimulus program, which functions similarly to the bond-buying program the Fed used after the financial crisis to keep long-term interest rates low. ECB head Mario Draghi has signaled the bank could expand its bond-buying program or cut interest rates further.

In this country, most of the focus will be on the November jobs report. Economists expect that U.S. employers added 271,000 jobs last month, according to FactSet. The unemployment rate is expected to remain at 5 percent.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 20 cents Tuesday to $41.85 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price oil internationally, lost 17 cents to $44.44 a barrel in London.

In other fuels trading, heating oil rose a cent to $1.369 a gallon, wholesale gasoline rose six cents to $1.363 a gallon, and natural gas was roughly unchanged at $2.231 per thousand cubic feet.

In metals trading, gold fell $1.80, or 0.2 percent, to $1,063.50 an ounce, silver was roughly unchanged at $14.08 an ounce, and copper rose two cents, or 1 percent, to $2.072 a pound.