NEW YORK – Stocks rose Wednesday, with the Standard & Poor's 500 index (search) closing at a fresh 4-year high, thanks to solid earnings and a report from the Federal Reserve showing business activity growth in almost all regions.
The Dow Jones industrial average (search) rose 57.32 points, or 0.54 percent, to end at 10,637.09. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 5.63 points, or 0.46 percent, to finish at 1,236.79. The technology-laced Nasdaq Composite Index (search) advanced 10.23 points, or 0.47 percent, to close at 2,186.22.
The Fed's report on economic conditions, known as the Beige Book (search), showed business activity continued to expand in June in all districts except New York and price pressures eased or stayed flat in most places. That report followed data earlier in the day showing an unexpected jump in durable goods orders.
"It's a more benign take than previous Beige Books," said Robert Tipp, chief investment strategist for Prudential Investment Management fixed income. "It will presumably open their eyes (the Fed's) to the fact that the economy could be cooling ... and they won't have to continue raising rates more than another two or three moves."
The day's other economic data were also strong: New home sales set a record in June and factory orders for big-ticket manufactured products rose at a strong clip. Analysts said investors were hearing the good economic news that they've been hoping for.
"The economic slowdown that was supposed to be happening at this time of year isn't happening," said Jack Caffrey, equities strategist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank.
Meanwhile, corporate earnings remained upbeat, with more companies surpassing expectations than missing them. The latest positive surprises came from Boeing Co. (BA) and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), whose stocks shot up after they reported earnings.
Boeing shares gained 0.5 percent, or 35 cents, to $66.70 and helped lift the Dow. The world's second-largest aircraft maker increased its 2005 profit per share due to stronger operating margins in its core businesses. And Internet retailer Amazon shot up 15.7 percent, or $5.91, to $43.65, a day after the company reported better-than-expected earnings. Amazon was the second-biggest percentage gainer in the Nasdaq 100.
After the bell, shares of Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) advanced 3 percent to $51.81 after the coffee shop chain reported a 29 percent increase in quarterly earnings, beating analysts' average estimate on strong sales of its frothy coffee drinks and wider operating margins. It closed at $50.35 on Nasdaq and jumped over 5 percent at one point in after-hours trading.
"Looking at the markets now, it seems like six weeks of good news, six weeks of bad news, six weeks of OK news," said Stephen Wood, portfolio strategist at Russell Investment Group. "We've been seesawing for about eight months."
Shares of Citigroup Inc. (C) and Bank of America (BAC), the No. 1 and No. 2 U.S. banking companies, respectively, fell after Merrill Lynch lowered its ratings on both to "neutral" from "buy." Citigroup shares dropped 0.5 percent, or 21 cents, to $44.39 and Bank of America's stock shed 0.9 percent, or 38 cents, to $44.15, both in NYSE trading.
Crude oil fell after U.S. stock data sent the market mixed signals on the state of fuel inventories. U.S. light sweet crude for September delivery settled at $59.11, down 9 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange (search).
During the regular session, shares of Dow component Johnson & Johnson Co. (JNJ) gained steam from a Lehman Brothers research note that said the stock is selling at a slight discount to its competitors and that the company has better prospects for growth.
Johnson & Johnson shares shot up 3 percent, or $1.87, to close at $64.54 on the New York Stock Exchange, giving the blue-chip Dow average its biggest lift.
Merck rose 1.7 percent, or 53 cents, to $31.22 and Pfizer climbed 1.8 percent, or 46 cents, to $26.70. Abbott Labs advanced 1.1 percent, or 51 cents, to $46.25, and Baxter International gained 1.1 percent, or 41 cents, to $39.10. The American Stock Exchange Pharmaceutical Index rose 1.37 percent.
Bonds fell, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.25 percent from 4.23 percent late Tuesday. The U.S. dollar was down against other major currencies. Gold prices were higher.
Consumer products company Colgate-Palmolive Co. (CL) rose 25 cents to $52 after its second-quarter profit matched analysts' estimates.
Reynolds American Inc. (RAI), the nation's second-largest cigarette maker, missed analysts' expectations despite a 66 percent increase in second-quarter profit. The cigarette maker also boosted its 2005 earnings guidance to reflect a favorable tax rate. It fell $1.18 to $83.07.
Sun Microsystems (SUNW) rose 2 cents to $3.87 after releasing its earnings late Tuesday. The company also announced a contract with General Motors Corp. on Wednesday.
Maytag Corp. (MYG), which has already accepted one buyout offer, opened its books to Whirlpool Corp. (WPL) which has proposed paying even more for its appliance making rival. Whirlpool has offered $18 a share, or about $1.43 billion, for Maytag. Maytag rose 6 cents to $16.91; Whirlpool fell 59 cents to $79.69.
Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) fell 44 cents to $2.95 after its CEO said the company's transformation plan, which includes cutting annual costs by $5 billion by the end of next year, is not enough to save the nation's third-largest airline. Gerald Grinstein said the company is working on an out-of court solution,but faces increasing financial pressure.
Trading was active on the NYSE, with about 1.48 billion shares changing hands, above last year's daily average of 1.46 billion, while on Nasdaq, about 1.82 billion shares traded, slightly above last year's daily average of 1.81 billion.
Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones by a ratio of almost 3 to 2 on the NYSE and by almost 8 to 7 on the Nasdaq.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 0.30, or 0.04 percent, to 674.88.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.83 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 edged up 0.14 percent, Germany's DAX index was up 0.24 percent, and France's CAC-40 was up 0.28 percent.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.