* Microsoft jumps nearly 4 pct and leads the Dow's advance
* Alcoa tops profit expectations, early earnings have been strong
* Solar companies have bright day after First Solar outlook
* Department store J.C. Penney's stock falls after CEO shake-up
* Dow up 0.4 pct, S&P 500 up 0.4 pct, Nasdaq up 0.5 pct
NEW YORK, April 9 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks advanced on Tuesday, with the Dow closing at a record high on a rally in cyclical shares and as earnings season started to heat up.
With the day's advance, the S&P 500 again neared its all-time intraday high of 1,576.09, recovering from steep losses last week, the index's worst of 2013.
The return to near-record levels indicates that investors are again using market declines as buying opportunities. The top sectors of the day, technology and energy, are groups that are closely tied to the pace of economic growth.
"It's encouraging that we're seeing cyclical sectors lead the rally. It's a healthy sign - investors believe the market can continue to run higher," said Joseph Tanious, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Funds in New York.
Among blue-chip technology stocks, Microsoft Corp jumped 3.6 percent to $29.61 as the Dow's top percentage gainer. Intel Corp shares shot up 3.1 percent to $21.75 while Hewlett-Packard rose 1.3 percent to $22.22. The S&P technology sector advanced 0.8 percent while the Philadelphia semiconductor sector gained 0.9 percent.
An S&P index of energy shares rose 0.8 percent, climbing alongside a rise of 0.9 percent in the price of U.S. crude oil, which was up on inflation data from China that reduced concerns about monetary tightening. Halliburton Co rose 1.8 percent to $39.11 and Chevron Corp gained 0.7 percent to $118.64.
The Dow Jones industrial average advanced 59.98 points, or 0.41 percent, to 14,673.46, a record closing high. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 5.54 points, or 0.35 percent, to 1,568.61. The Nasdaq Composite Index added 15.61 points, or 0.48 percent, to close at 3,237.86.
The Dow also touched a record intraday high at 14,716.46.
Stocks also got a boost from a promising start to the earnings season. While only 5 percent of S&P 500 companies have reported results so far, almost three-quarters of them have topped expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data. Still, profits are seen rising just 1.5 percent from a year-ago quarter, down from estimates in January for growth of 4.3 percent.
"Expectations have gotten managed down to the point where we could more easily see companies beat expectations, making it easier for us to pop," said Kristen Scarpa, a New York-based investment strategist at Barclays, which has a year-end target of 1,595 for the S&P 500.
Late Monday, Alcoa Inc reported adjusted earnings that beat expectations, though revenue was below forecasts. Shares of Alcoa, which as the first Dow component is unofficially seen as setting the tone for the earnings season, closed flat on the day at $8.39.
There have been 4.7 negative first-quarter preannouncements for each positive one, according to Thomson Reuters data, the worst ratio since the third quarter of 2001.
Bucking that trend, however, was First Solar Inc, which surged 45.5 percent to $39.35 as the S&P 500's top gainer by far after forecasting 2013 earnings and revenue well above expectations.
The news lifted the solar sector, with Yingli Green Energy climbing 21 percent to $2.24 and Trina Solar up 14.6 percent at $4.40. The Market Vectors Solar Energy ETF rose almost 13 percent to $40.68.
About 56 percent of the shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange closed in positive territory. In contrast, 53 percent of Nasdaq-listed shares closed lower.
Volume was light, with about 5.71 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, below the daily average so far this year of about 6.48 billion shares.
Recent data have shown the U.S. economy is growing but at a slow pace. The March payrolls report showed jobs creation was less than half of what economists had expected. Analysts said, however, that the market has the momentum to push indexes higher, even with the Dow Jones industrial average up about 12 percent and the S&P 500 up about 10 percent for the year.
J.C. Penney was the S&P 500's largest percentage loser, tumbling 12.2 percent to $13.93 after the department store's board ousted Chief Executive Ron Johnson and replaced him with his predecessor.
Though Penney's board may not face serious legal challenges, shareholders may question whether the move to replace Johnson with Myron Ullman, who Johnson himself replaced in late 2011, is good for them.
Shares of nutritional company Herbalife fell 3.8 percent to $36.95 after the company announced KPMG had resigned as Herbalife's independent accountant after one of its senior partners engaged in insider trading in Herbalife stock.
Earlier, the stock was halted from trading after the New York Times reported KPMG would resign.