A fresh batch of corporate results pushed stocks to their best levels since June 2008 on Tuesday, renewing optimism that profit growth will remain resilient enough to keep equities on the rise.
The S&P 500 barreled through the 1,344 level, seen as a key resistance point the benchmark index needed to surpass in order to trigger further gains.
Ford Motor Co , 3M Co and United Parcel Services Inc were among the bellwether names to impress, continuing a string of better-than-expected results. 3M and UPS also raised their full-year profit outlooks.
It is really from the multinationals that have been reporting good numbers and speaking of good things to come -- these are big, big blue chips that are starting to see a bright light, said Joseph Benanti, managing director at Rosenblatt Securities in New York.
Shares of 3M, a Dow component, rose 1.9 percent to $95.94 while UPS was up 0.9 percent at $74.30. Ford advanced 0.7 percent to $15.66.
According to Thomson Reuters data, 35 percent of S&P 500 companies have reported earnings through Tuesday, with 76 percent exceeding analysts' expectations.
But there were some disappointments -- Coca-Cola Co fell 1.2 percent to $66.93 and was the Dow's biggest drag after its results were hurt by lost Japanese revenue. U.S. Steel Corp and Netflix Inc also fell after results.
The three major U.S. stock indexes hit fresh highs for the year and the Nasdaq climbed to its highest level since October 2007. But some caution remained a day before a press conference by U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 115.49 points, or 0.93 percent, at 12,595.37. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> gained 11.99 points, or 0.90 percent, at 1,347.24. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> climbed 21.66 points, or 0.77 percent, to end at 2,847.54.
The press conference will follow the Fed's last policy statement before it is expected to stop its quantitative easing program at the end of June. Investors have concerns that the end of that program could remove support for buying stocks.
U.S. consumer confidence rose in April as inflation expectations eased somewhat and consumers felt better about the short-term outlook, according to a report from the Conference Board, a private-sector group. The data helped ease concerns that the recent rise in oil prices have started to hit shoppers.
Volume was tepid, with about 7.22 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Amex and Nasdaq, below the daily average of 7.73 billion.
Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,188 to 837, while on the Nasdaq, advancers beat decliners 1,648 to 941.
(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Pascha)