Thursday's advance came on the heels of the Dow's 67-point rise Wednesday which was stoked by a vote in the House of Representatives to suspend the U.S. debt ceiling through May 19.
Also propelling gains Wednesday were strong results from tech heavyweights Google INc. (Nasdaq: GOOG), which beat estimates and spiked $38.63 points higher, and International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), which rallied 4.4% after posting better-than-expected numbers.
To date, some 75% of the 134 companies in the S&P 500 Index that have reported results have handily beat expectations.
"People are just trying to digest all the earnings reports from the various companies. As long as the economy seems to get better the stock market will do well," Giri Cherukuri, portfolio manager who helps manage $3 billion at Oakbrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois, told Bloomberg.
Stock Market Today: Apple, Netflix, Microsoft
Shares of Apple, the world's most valuable company, were down nearly 12% Thursday with 40 minutes left in trading after reporting the slowest profit growth since 2003 and the weakest sales increase in 14 quarters. The stock tumbled to its lowest level since February of last year.
The iPhone, iPad an iPod maker reported fiscal first quarter earnings that were above analysts' expectations. However, revenue was shy of estimates and iPhone sales came in at the low end of views.
The lackluster report suggested to some that Apple may be losing some of its swagger. Plus, the Cupertino, CA-based company's lofty gains over the past several months left shares priced for perfection, leaving scores wondering if its past stellar performance can be maintained.
But given that the big bite taken out of Apple didn't weigh down markets too much, it was deemed as a sure sign of optimism.
"The fact we're not getting hammered by Apple right now is encouraging," Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist at Schaeffer's Investment Research told The Wall Street Journal.
Also encouraging were numbers from Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX). Shares surged nearly 38% after the world's largest online video service beat forecasts for fourth quarter subscriber growth and posted an unexpected profit. The company managed to grow its viewer base by 2.05 million over the past year. Membership loss had been a big concern among investors.
Netflix earned 13 cents a share, or $8 million, in the latest quarter. Revenue grew by 8%. Wall Street was looking for a loss of 13 cents.
"They did surprisingly well with subscriber growth and profitability. It was a very good quarter," commented Lazard Capital Markets analyst Barton Crockett.
Shares of blue-chip conglomerate 3M (NYSE: MMM) edged slightly higher after reporting Q4 results in line with estimates, and affirming its earnings outlook for 2013.
Swift Transportation Co. (Nasdaq: SWFT) soared nearly 25% after the trucking company reported a 27% increase in fourth quarter profits.
Earnings to watch: Dow component Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) reports after the close. Numbers will be closely watched as the quarter will be the tech behemoth's first to reflect its October launch of Windows 8. Estimates are for 75 cents a share versus 78 on the same period a year ago. MSFT shares were up a slight 0.83% in the stock market today ahead of earnings.
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