Strong earnings reports push Wall Street stocks higher

Wall Street’s blue chip index clocked its biggest one-day gain since early March, driven by strong earnings reports and improved manufacturing conditions.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 122.05 points, or 1.1%, to 11,167.32. Other idexes were also up strongly.

American Express was the measure's top performer, up 3.3%. Pfizer and Merck each rose almost 3% on strong earnings reports from competitors.

Bristol-Myers Squibb gained 4.9% on 16% profit jump while Procter & Gamble fell 1.6% after an earnings drop.

Hewlett-Packard slipped 0.9% after it announced plans to acquire the once-pioneering smartphone maker Palm for nearly $US1 billion.

The Nasdaq Composite climbed 1.6% to 2511.92. The S&P 500 index jumped 1.3% to 1206.78, reclaiming its perch above 1200.

All its sectors were in the black, led by gains of more than 2% each in the financial and consumer-discretionary categories.

Other markets: Europe up, Asia down

European stocks rose as investors cheered a slew of upbeat economic and corporate releases, amid growing hopes that a rescue deal for Greece is finally in sight.

That news sent stocks in Athens soaring. Greece's ASE closed up 7.1% at 1829.29.

Other countries facing tough fiscal situations also gained. Spain's IBEX 35 climbed 2.7% to 10441.00, and Lisbon's PSI jumped 4.6% to 7339.2.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 index closed up 1.4% at 261.74. The UK’'s FTSE 100 index rose 0.6% to 5617.84, France's CAC-40 index gained 1.4% at 3840.62 and Germany's DAX added 1% to 6144.91.

Major Asian markets ended mostly lower despite a higher finish on Wall Street that was helped by the Federal Reserve's decision to keep interest rates near zero.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 declined 0.8%, South Korea's Kospi gave up 0.3%, China's Shanghai Composite fell 1.1%, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index lost 0.8% and Taiwan's Taiex slid 0.3%.

India's Sensex rose 0.7%, Singapore finished up 0.9%, Bangkok gained 0.5% and Indonesian stocks rose 0.8%. Japanese markets were closed for a public holiday.

Commodities: Oil, gold up

Crude-oil futures were higher on stronger hopes for the US economic recovery.

June-delivery light, sweet crude oil was up $US1.95, or 2.3%, to $US85.17 a barrel in New York. North Sea Brent crude oil for June rose $US1.30 to $US87.46 a barrel.

Gold futures retreated with the most actively traded gold contract, for June delivery settling $US5.10 lower at $US1166.70 an ounce. More immediate May gold was down $US6.10 at $US1165.20.

Gold jumped to $US1175.30, the highest intraday level since December 4, the day after it hit a record of $US1227.50 an ounce.

Currencies: Euro, pound up

The euro managed a modest rebound against the dollar as euro-zone officials said a bailout package for Greece could be ready within days, easing some fears over the cash-strapped nation.

Encouraging data from Germany and the European Union, as well as strong earnings reports from European and US companies, helped give risk sentiment a lift, boosting currencies, such as the Australian and Canadian dollars, that are closely tied to global growth prospects.

The pound also took advantage of improved market sentiment, rallying more than 0.8% against the greenback.

The euro was at $US1.3246 from $US1.3201 late on Wednesday. The dollar was at ¥94.06 from ¥94.09, while the euro was at ¥124.60 from ¥124.21 yen.

The pound was at $US1.5324 from $US1.5191.