U.S. stocks rose in volatile trade on Thursday as better-than-expected results from several regional banks lifted financial shares, overshadowing disappointing economic data and anemic outlooks from economic bellwethers like United Parcel Service.

Earnings from big U.S. regional banks, including PNC Financial Services Group Inc
and Fifth Third Bancorp , provided glimmers of hope for a sector damaged by climbing loan losses as the recession lingers.

But investors wrestled with the possibility that the federal government's stress tests on 19 major U.S. banks may reveal weaknesses, which created volatility throughout the session. The government is set to unveil results on May 4.

It's still about the banks. We're all still wondering about the stress tests, said Frank Lesh, a futures analyst and broker at FuturePath Trading LLC in Chicago.

Solid results from companies such as Apple Inc also appeased investors. Apple shares rose 3.2 percent to $125.40 on strong sales of iPhones and iPods, making it the Nasdaq's top advancer.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 70.49 points, or 0.89 percent, to 7,957.06. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> rose 8.37 points, or 0.99 percent, to 851.92. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> added 6.09 points, or 0.37 percent, to 1,652.21.

In contrast, United Parcel Service Inc slid 2.6 percent to $53.33 after it said profits were hurt by the economic downturn and forecast second-quarter results below expectations.

U.S. government data showed existing homes sales fell in March to a much lower-than-expected annual rate, while weekly initial jobless claims rose slightly more than expected.

Barring a surprising advance on Friday, Wall Street stocks were on track to snap a six-week streak of gains.

Energy shares also gained as the price of crude rose 1.6

percent, lifting Chevron Corp shares 2.8 percent to $65.53. Chevron contributed the most to the blue-chip Dow's advance.


Financial shares may get a lift on Friday after American Express reported its first-quarter earnings after the closing bell, sending its stock up 6.3 percent to $22.30 in extended-hours trading.

Shares of Microsoft climbed 4.3 percent to $19.73 after the bell. Microsoft, the world's largest software company, posted a quarterly profit that met Wall Street's expectations after the regular trading session ended.

Online retailer Amazon.com added 1.2 percent to $81.60 in extended trading after reporting a rise in revenue of 18 percent and earnings that topped analysts' estimates.


The broader S&P 500 is up nearly 26 percent from its bear-market closing low on March 9. While some profit-taking was not unexpected after the impressive rally, analysts said declines could be countered by investors who missed the rally and who are looking to get back into the market.

Shares of PNC Financial rose 7.5 percent to $40.93 on the New York Stock Exchange, while Fifth Third's stock gained 3.5 percent to $3.82 on the Nasdaq. The Holders Regional Bank Sector ETF added 5.4 percent.

Internet auction and marketplace giant eBay Inc also helped lift the Nasdaq after quarterly earnings topped Wall Street's expectations. Shares of eBay surged 12.3 percent to $16.62.

Trading was moderate on the New York Stock Exchange, with about 1.57 billion shares changing hands, slightly above last year's estimated daily average of 1.49 billion, while on Nasdaq, about 2.49 billion shares traded, above last year's daily average of 2.28 billion.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a ratio of about 3 to 2. In contrast, on the Nasdaq, about eight stocks fell for every five that rose.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)