NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The major U.S. equity averages finished with solid gains Wednesday as investors grew progressively more optimistic about second-quarter reporting season and the Federal Reserve said economy continues to grow, albeit at a slower pace.
The central bank's Beige Book report, released late in the session, said overall economic activity in the United States "continued to expand at a modest to moderate pace in June and early July" in the majority of its 12 districts.
"The Atlanta, St. Louis, and San Francisco Districts reported modest growth, while Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Dallas described economic activity as advancing moderately," the report said. "The New York, Philadelphia, and Cleveland Districts noted that activity continued to expand, but at a slower pace since the last report, while Richmond cited mixed activity."
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 103 points, or 0.81%, to close at 12,909. After falling in six straight sessions, the blue-chip index has now gained ground in the three of the past four trading days and is now up 5.66% so far in 2012.The S&P 500 advanced 9 points, or 0.67%, to settle at 1,373. The Nasdaq added nearly 33 points, or 1.12%, to finish at 2942.60. The market was already showing strength ahead of the Beige Book report as the latest batch of earnings reports contained few negative surprises. Most notably, Intel (INTC - Get Report) shares was able to rally more than 3% after its above-consensus profit despite the chip giant bringing down its revenue guidance for the rest of the year. Investor sentiment also got a boost from data showing the housing market recovery is gaining momentum. Within the Dow, 23 of the index's 30 components were moving higher, buoyed by sharp gains in Intel, Microsoft (MSFT) and IBM (IBM - Get Report). IBM's stock rose 2.5% to close at $188.25 ahead of its quarterly report. After the bell, Big Blue eased past Wall Street's earnings expectations for the second quarter but fell a bit short on revenue. The shares were undeterred, extending gains in after-hours trading. The biggest percentage losers among the blue chips were Bank of America (BAC), American Express (AXP) and Merck (MRK). Bank of America lost nearly 5% after the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank said second-quarter revenue totaled $22.2 billion, down 1% year-over-year. Earnings came in at 19 cents a share for the three-month period. Analysts were expecting a profit of 14 cents a share on revenue of $22.9 billion. In the broad market, the technology, capital goods and consumer cyclicals all charged higher, while financials were the only sector to finish in the red. Gainers outpaced decliners by a ratio of nearly 2-to-1 on the New York Stock Exchange and 1.5-to-1 on the Nasdaq. In other earnings news, Honeywell International (HON) shares surged 6.67% to $58.17 after the diversified technology and manufacturing company reported consensus-topping second-quarter earnings thanks to a jump in sales at its aerospace division. Yahoo! (YHOO) posted quarterly earnings late Tuesday that topped expectations, but revenue came in a bit light. New CEO Marissa Mayer wasn't on the Internet company's earnings conference call. The stock ended Wednesday up 0.58% to $15.68. According to Thomson Reuters data, the blended estimate for the second quarter, which reflects reported results and analyst expectations, is for year-over-year growth of 5.9% from the S&P 500, down from 8.1% in the first quarter. 10% of S&P 500 companies have reported so far.