U.S. stocks advanced on Tuesday as stronger-than-expected report on new home starts and encouraging quarterly results from Johnson & Johnson buoyed sentiment.

The S&P 500 Index advanced 5.60 points, or 0.42 percent, to trade at 1,310.74 at 2:25 p.m. EDT. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 53.93 points, or 0.44 percent, to trade at 12,255.52. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 0.08 percent.

The US Commerce Department reported that privately-owned housing starts in March jumped 7.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 549,000 from upwardly revised annual rate of 512,000 in February, while economists’ expected housing starts to climb to 520,000 in March.

Building permits increased by 11.2 percent to an annual rate of 594,000, compared with upwardly revised 534,000 in the previous month and against economists’ estimation of 540,000.

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) shares gained 3.14 percent to $62.35. The company reported first quarter net income of $3.48 billion or $1.25 per share compared to $4.53 billion or $1.62 per share in the same quarter last year. The company raised its fiscal year 2011 earnings view to between $4.90 and $5.00 a share from its prior range of $4.80 to $4.90 per share.

Steel Dynamics Inc. (NASDAQ:STLD) share surged 4.5 percent as its first quarter profit climbed 63 percent as sales rose due to higher shipments and selling prices.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE:GS) declined 1.51 percent after posting a decline in quarterly earnings as trading revenue dropped. Revenues for the first quarter were down 7 percent to $11.89 billion from last year's $12.78 billion, but well above the analysts’ estimation of $10.89 billion. The company reported first quarter net income of $1.56 per share compared to analysts’ estimation of $0.82 per share.

Harley-Davidson Inc. (NYSE:HOG) shares plunged 4.18 percent to $38.05 as its first quarter earnings missed expectations. Net income rose to $119.3 million or $0.51 per share from $33.3 million or $0.29 per share in the same quarter last year, while analysts expected net income of $0.53 per share.

Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE:TXN) shares declined 0.26 percent after the company said it was contending with supply shortages as well as damage to its own factories and those of its customers in Japan. Its first quarter net income rose to$666 million or $0.55 per share compared to $658 million or $0.52 per share in the same period a year-ago.

The euro advanced 0.73 percent to 1.4338 against the dollar and the yen gained 0.24 percent against the greenback.

Crude oil futures gained 0.08 percent to $108.26/barrel and gold futures rose 0.21 percent.