While you were sleeping: Merck, Sprint surprise

Wall Street gained as the latest earnings from companies including Merck and Sprint bolstered optimism about the outlook for corporate profits.

In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.6 percent, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index increased 0.5 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 0.82 percent.

Gains in shares of Merck and IBM, up 3.3 percent and 1.3 percent respectively, led the Dow higher.

Shares of Sprint jumped, last up 10.2 percent, after the company lifted its full-year profit outlook.

"On balance, with expectations having been lowered, earnings beats are coming in around 70 percent and most of the forward-looking statements have generally been pretty decent," Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia, told Reuters.

The latest economic data were by and large positive. The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index slipped to 82.3 in April, down from an upwardly revised 83.9 in March. Still, April's reading was the second-highest since January 2008.

"Consumer confidence declined slightly in April, as consumers assessed current business and labour market conditions less favourably than in March," Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board, said in a statement.

"However, their expectations regarding the short-term outlook for the economy and labour market held steady," Franco said. "Thus, while sentiment regarding current conditions may have slipped a bit, consumers do not foresee the economy, or the labour market, losing the momentum that has been building up over the past several months."

Separately, the S&P/Case-Shiller composite index of home prices in 20 metropolitan areas rose 0.8 percent in February on a seasonally adjusted basis. While the increase was better than expected, recent data have sparked concern about the recovery in the US real estate industry.

"Despite continued price gains, most other housing statistics are weak," David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said in a statement. "Five years into the recovery from the recession, the economy will need to look to gains in consumer spending and business investment more than housing,"

On Tuesday, the US Federal Reserve began a regularly scheduled two-day policy meeting and is expected to announce on Wednesday that it will reduce its monthly bond-buying programme by another US$10 billion to US$45 billion.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index finished the day with a 1.2 percent gain from the previous close. France's CAC 40 added 0.8 percent, the UK's FTSE 100 rose 1 percent, while Germany's DAX advanced 1.5 percent.

European shares were lifted after positive earnings from Nokia and Infineon as well as Deutsche Bank, which reported a quarterly profit that fell less than analysts expected.

In Germany, inflation rose slower than forecast, an outcome that increases pressure on European central bankers who will meet next week amid calls for more stimulus.

(BusinessDesk)

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