Stocks Rise as Solid Earnings Trump GDP Data

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Wall Street ticked higher on Friday as strong corporate results helped traders overcome a weaker-than-expected reading on U.S. economic output.

Today's Markets

As of 3:00 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 39 points, or 0.3%, to 13244, the S&P 500 gained 4.3 points, or 0.31%, to 1404 and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 21 points, or 0.69%, to 3072.

The annualized pace of expansion for the world's biggest economy came in at 2.2% in the first quarter of 2012, slower than the 3% registered in the final three months of last year, according to a preliminary reading by the Commerce Department. Economists were looking for an increase 2.5%. Consumer spending, housing investment and exports all picked up steam during the quarter. However, the gains were offset by the first drop in business investment since the last quarter of 2009, continued contraction in government spending and a pick up in imports.

"The US economy remains a bright light in the global economy, although the light is hardly blinding, and also showing some signs of fading," Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit wrote in an e-mail. Williamson warned, however, that the weakness in business investment "serves as a reminder that business remain wary of expansion, given the uncertain economic outlook."

A separate report from Reuters and the University of Michigan showed that consumer sentiment ticked up to its best level since February 2011 in the end of April. The gauge clocked in at 76.4, compared with expectations for it to hold steady from an earlier reading at 75.7.

On the European front, Standard & Poor's sliced Spain's long-term sovereign debt rating by two notches to BBB+ from A amid concerns over the country's ability to pay its debt while its economy struggles. Separately, the ratings agency affirmed Ireland's debt rating at BBB+, citing the government's "proactive" response to the financial crisis. S&P has a negative outlook on both countries.

In Asia, the Bank of Japan expanded its asset-buying program by 10 trillion yen ($124 billion) in a bid to keep long-term interest rates low and reinvigorate the country's economy. The country is also looking to push the value of its currency compared to others lower to help lift its exports.

On the earnings front, three blue-chip companies reported on the day.

Merck (NYSE:MRK) unveiled first-quarter earnings of 99 cents a share, excluding items, on revenue of $11.7 billion. Analysts expected the health-care behemoth to earn 98 cents on $11.82 billion.

Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) posted an adjusted fiscal-third quarter EPS of 94 cents, topping forecasts by a penny. The consumer products company’s sales came in at $20.19 billion, shy of the $20.29 billion Wall Street expected.

Chevron (NYSE:CVX) posted a first-quarter profit of $3.27 a share, beating estimates by a penny. The blue-chip company’s total revenue came in at $60.71 billion, short of expectations of $72.42 billion.'s (NASDAQ:AMZN) results, released after the close on Thursday, handily beat expectations. The online retailer said it earned 28 cents a share on revenue of $13.18 billion, compared with estimates of 7 cents a share on revenue of $12.9 billion.

Energy futures were broadly to the upside. Crude oil traded in New York gained 38 cents, or 0.36%, to $104.93 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline rose 0.72% to $3.21 a gallon.

In metals, gold climbed $4.30, or 0.26%, to $1,665 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

European blue chips jumped 0.92%, the English FTSE 100 climbed 0.49% to 5777 and the German DAX rallied 0.91% to 6801.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 dipped 0.43% to 9521 and the Chinese Hang Seng fell 0.33% to 20741.