U.S. Markets

U.S. stock markets gained for the first time in four days on Tuesday as stronger-than-expected report on new home starts and encouraging quarterly results from Johnson & Johnson helped lift the markets.

The S&P 500 Index was up 7.48 points, or 0.57 percent, at 1,312.62. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 65.16 points, or 0.53 percent, at 12,266.75. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 0.35 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 3.69 percent to $62.69. 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 5.73 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 1.25 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 5.29 percent to $37.61 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.

European Markets

European stock markets rallied in early trade on Wednesday as technology stocks surged following upbeat results from Intel Corp.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index gained 0.99 percent to 277.13. DAX30 advanced 115.62 points or 1.64 percent to 7,154.93 and CAC 40 gained 55.50 points or 1.42 percent 3,964.08, while FTSE 100 advanced 94.41 points or 1.6 percent to 5,991.28.

Among the tech stocks, ASML Holding NV surged 4.14 percent to 27.66 euros and Infineon Technologies AG gained 3.4 percent to 7.14 euros, while STMicroelectronics NV climbed 5.14 percent to 8.31 euros.

Among auto makers, Daimler AG advanced 1.84 percent and Volkswagen AG advanced 2.76 percent, while Peugeot SA surged 3.49 percent to 28.12 euros after reporting a 10 percent rise in its first quarter revenue.

HSBC Holdings Plc gained 1.35 percent after the company stock was upgraded to “overweight” rating from “equal weight” rating at Morgan Stanley.

Asian Markets

Asian stock markets advanced on Wednesday as upbeat earnings from Wall Street and better-than-expected U.S. housing starts data buoyed sentiment.

Tokyo shares ended higher, led by gains from exporters amid optimism over the U.S. economic recovery. Nikkei advanced 1.76 percent or 165.79 points to 9,606.82.

Among the exporters, Nissan Motor gained 1.97 percent to 723 yen and Sony Corp. advanced 0.86 percent to 2,458 yen, while Toyota Motor gained 0.31 percent to 3,170 yen.

Chipmakers advanced as Intel reported better-than-expected first quarter earnings on late Tuesday. Tokyo Electron surged 4.07 percent and Advantest Corp. gained 3.34 percent, while Elpida Memory advanced 1.88 percent.

Chinese shares advanced as energy sector companies gained on higher oil prices. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index advanced 375.48 points or 1.6 percent to 23,896.10 and Chinese Shanghai composite rose 0.29 percent or 8.73 points to 3,007.77.

PetroChina Co advanced 2.46 percent to HK$11.60 and China Shenhua Energy gained 2.53 percent to HK$36.400, while CNOOC Ltd. rose 2.96 percent.

South Korean shares surged to a record high on Wednesday as tech shares rallied after upbeat earnings from Intel. Seoul composite surged 47.23 points or 2.23 percent to 2,169.91.

Samsung Electronics surged 4.68 percent and Hynix Semiconductor gained 4.57 percent after Intel forecast quarterly revenue well above analysts’ estimates.