Wall St gains on earnings, data

US stocks boosted by upbeat Chinese data, upbeat earnings as S&P gains for sixth time in seven sessions.

United States stocks closed higher after a handful of upbeat corporate earnings reports and positive signs from China, with the S&P 500 gaining ground for the sixth time in seven sessions.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 96 points, or 0.6%, to 15,510 points.

The S&P 500 index gained five points, or 0.3%, to 1,751 points.

The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 21 points, or 0.6%, to 3,928 points.

Ford Motor rallied after beating third-quarter earnings and revenue expectations and raising its profit and margin forecasts. The auto maker also lifted its projections for sales in China.

Homebuilder stocks got a lift from PulteGroup's quarterly earnings report, which showed revenue rising on an increase in home prices and closings. The stock traded sharply higher.

Apple gained after activist investor Carl Icahn boosted his investment in the stock by 22%, and continued to push for a $US150 billion buyback at the company

Dow industrial 3M edged up after reporting third-quarter earnings and revenue above analyst estimates, helped by sales growth in all business groups.

Telecommunications stocks were the worst performers after AT&T's third-quarter earnings increased just above estimates, while revenue rose in line with forecasts. The stock retreated.

US stocks followed global markets higher after Chinese manufacturing data suggested the world's second-largest economy will reach the government's 7.5% growth target for the year. HSBC's preliminary China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index for October rose to a seven-month high.

Investors continue to voice optimism about the stock market after lawmakers averted a US debt crisis earlier this month and as concerns that the Federal Reserve will start to cut back its stimulus efforts this year recede.

"We've been able to sidestep every land mine and find solutions, even if they come at the last minute," said Jay Wong, co-portfolio manager at Los Angeles-based Payden & Rygel, which oversees $85 billion. "The market continues to be supported by growth, and an ability to dodge every bullet that comes along," he said.

After weeks of sitting on their hands due to uncertainty tied to gridlock in Washington, investors are looking for chances to buy stocks, said David Lafferty, chief investment strategist for Natixis Global Asset Management.

"Investors look predisposed to bidding up equities in the absence of bad news," Mr Lafferty said. "The shutdown and the Fed's taper talk had cast a pall over the market, but those issues are now on the back burner."

Still, Mr Lafferty said that third-quarter earnings have been checkered so far and that he expects the stock market's big gains to slow without more optimistic signals from US corporations. The S&P 500 is up 23% so far this year.

"The speed of the ascent is going to slow," Mr Lafferty said.

In US economic news, the number of people seeking first-time jobless benefits fell last week, but came in higher than economists expected. Initial claims for jobless benefits declined by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000 last week.

US imports and exports both held virtually unchanged in August, reflecting a slow-growing global economy and tepid demand from American consumers.

Markit's flash purchasing managers' index showed the US factory sector barely expanded in October.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged up to 2.520% from nearly four-month low of 2.482% late Wednesday.

The dollar sank to a 23-month low against the euro amid expectations that the Federal Reserve will continue to provide extra liquidity. The euro later pared its gains after relatively downbeat euro-zone data. The dollar also lost ground against the yen.

European markets also advanced Thursday, as China's economic report offset a soft reading on the euro zone. Europe's Stoxx Europe 600 rebounded 0.4%. Germany's DAX 30 index climbed 0.7%, and France's CAC 40 index tacked on 0.4%. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 index advanced 0.6%.

Growth in eurozone business activity fell in September from the prior month, versus expectations for a slight increase.

Asian markets were mostly higher. Japan's Nikkei Stock Average gained 0.4%, and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.3%. China's Shanghai Composite shed 0.9% as another rise in the interbank lending rate revived fears of the liquidity crunch that rocked the markets in June.

December crude-oil futures rose 0.3% to settle at $97.11 a barrel, after settling at the lowest level since June on Wednesday. November gold futures gained 1.2% to settle at $1,350.20 a troy ounce.

In other corporate news, Visa gained after the company's board authorized a 21% dividend increase, the fifth time the payments company has boosted the payout on Class A shares since it went public in 2008.

Symantec dropped after the security-software company posted lower-than-expected results, lowered its full-year guidance and issued current-quarter guidance below analysts' expectations.

McKesson climbed after confirming its bid for German pharmaceutical retailer Celesio. McKesson, a drug distributor, also posted results that beat expectations and lifted its full-year earnings outlook.