Earnings Bring Out the Buyers

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq close at four-year highs.
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Updated from 4:10 p.m. EDT

The

S&P 500

(SPX)

and the

Nasdaq Composite

(NASDAQ)

closed at their best levels in four years Thursday after traders pushed stocks steadily higher throughout the session.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

I:DJI

rose 68.46 points, or 0.64%, to 10,705.55, and the S&P 500 gained 6.93 points, or 0.56%, to 1243.72. The Nasdaq Composite added 12.22 points, or 0.56%, to 2198.44. The 10-year Treasury was up 14/32 in price to yield 4.20%, while the dollar rose against the yen and euro.

The Dow was paced by a 3.1% gain in

Caterpillar

(CAT) - Get Report

, which hit an all-time closing high, and a 2.6% increase in

Honeywell

(HON) - Get Report

.

"The market is anticipating a good GDP number tomorrow, and traders positioned themselves today ahead of that number," said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist with Windham Financial.

About 1.56 billion shares changed hands on the

New York Stock Exchange

with advancers beating decliners by a 3-to-1 margin. Trading volume on the Nasdaq was 1.72 billion shares, with advancers outpacing decliners 2 to 1.

"The theme in the market is stronger for longer, meaning investors are coming around to the expectation that the economy will be stronger than previously thought," said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist with Spencer Clarke LLC. "It's the driving force since the April lows."

Oil was higher despite Wednesday's stronger-than-expected build in distillate inventories, with August crude finished up 83 cent to $59.94 a barrel in Nymex floor trading.

Stocks began rising after surprise news that

DaimlerChrysler

(DCX)

CEO Juergen Schrempp will leave his post at the end of the year, to be succeeded by Chrysler President Dieter Zetsche. The automaker also reported a 28% rise in second-quarter profits. DaimlerChrysler was higher by $4.29, or 9.8%, to close at $48.26 in U.S. trading.

On another busy day for earnings news,

Aetna

(AET)

said its second-quarter profit rose to $409.7 million, or $1.35 a share, while adjusted earnings of $1.08 a share were in line with estimates. Aetna added $3.78, or 5.1%, to $78.40.

Starbucks

(SBUX) - Get Report

rose a day after posting second-quarter earnings of $125.6 million, or 31 cents a share, beating forecasts by a penny. Sales rose 21% to $1.6 billion. Starbucks gained $2.33, or 4.6%, to $52.68.

Shares of

Exxon Mobil

(XOM) - Get Report

finished higher after the company reported a 32% increase in net income to $7.64 billion, or $1.20 a share, from $5.79 billion, or 88 cents a share, a year ago. Excluding a $200 million charge, Exxon Mobil earned $7.84 billion, or $1.23 a share. Analysts expected earnings of $1.24 a share, according to Thomson First Call. Exxon Mobil rose 40 cents, or 0.7%, to $60.

Royal Dutch

(RD)

reported a 26% rise in second-quarter earnings to about $4.6 billion. The results, which are on a so-called current cost of supply basis, were slightly below Wall Street's estimate. Royal Dutch was lower by 39 cents, or 0.6%, to finish at $60.35.

Dow Chemical

(DOW) - Get Report

earned $1.27 billion, or $1.30 a share, in the second quarter, up from $685 million, or 72 cents a share, last year. The company earned $1.20 a share excluding a gain, missing estimates. Dow Chemical gained 82 cents, or 1.7%, to $48.43.

Second-quarter earnings rose 40% from last year at

Station Casinos

(STN) - Get Report

on a 4% gain in revenue. The company earned $45.4 million, or 65 cents a share, excluding items, beating estimates by a penny. Shares were up $2.46 or 3.4%, to $74.26.

Raytheon

(RTN) - Get Report

posted second-quarter earnings of $201 million, or 44 cents a share, compared with a loss of $108 million, or 25 cents a share, a year ago. Continuing earnings were 51 cents a share, beating the Thomson First Call consensus by 5 cents. Revenue rose to $5.41 billion from last year's $4.93 billion. The stock lost 14 cents, or 0.4%, to $39.69.

Shares of

Marathon Oil

(MRO) - Get Report

finished 1.9% higher after the company reported second-quarter earnings of $673 million, or $1.92 a share, up from $352 million, or $1.02 a share, a year ago. Excluding items, earnings were $755 million, or $2.16 a share. The Thomson First Call consensus was for a profit of $1.57 a share. Revenue rose to $12.09 billion from $9.84 billion a year ago. Marathon Oil was up $1.11 to $58.99.

Celgene

(CELG) - Get Report

reported second-quarter net income quadrupled to $10.8 million, or 6 cents a share, while adjusted earnings of 17 cents a share beat estimates by 3 cents. Revenue rose to $145.7 million from $87.8 million last year. Celgene added 97 cents, or 2.1%, to $48.24.

Coca-Cola Enterprises

(CCE)

reported second-quarter earnings of $333 million, or 70 cents a share, up from $203 million, or 43 cents a share a year ago. Excluding non-recurring items, earnings were 58 cents a share, ahead of the Thomson First Call consensus of 50 cents a share. Revenue rose 6% to $5.13 billion. Coca-Cola Enterprises rose 64 cents, or 2.8%, to $23.60.

Companies also reporting earnings before the market opened included

Bristol-Myers Squibb

(BMY) - Get Report

,

XM Satellite Radio

(XMSR)

,

Wendy's

(WEN) - Get Report

,

Phelps Dodge

(PD) - Get Report

and

Loews

(LTR)

After the bell Thursday,

KLA-Tencor

(KLAC) - Get Report

,

Eastman Chemical

(EMN) - Get Report

,

Gateway

(GTW)

and

Symantec

(SYMC) - Get Report

are expected to report.

In ratings news, brokerage Merrill Lynch downgraded

Universal Health Services

(UHS) - Get Report

to neutral from buy and said it was concerned about competitive pressure. The company reported earnings of $2.34 a share from 78 cents a share in the year-earlier period. Excluding a one-time item, earnings would have been 64 cents a share, missing the Thomson First Call consensus of 75 cents a share. The stock slid 8.4% to $53.02.

On the economic front, the Labor Department said jobless claims rose 5,000 to 310,000 for the week ended July 23. Economists expected claims to rise by 12,000 to a level of 315,000. The four-week moving average fell by 250 to 318,250.

On Friday, the Commerce Department will release its advance reading on second-quarter gross domestic product. The Labor Department is expected to report the employment cost index for the second quarter. Additionally, investors will get the University of Michigan's July reading for consumer sentiment and the National Association of Purchasing Management's Chicago PMI data.

Overseas markets were higher, with London's FTSE 100 up 0.1% to 5270 and Germany's Xetra DAX gaining 0.8% to 4892. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei rose 0.2% overnight to 11,858 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.1% to 14,813.

To view Aaron Task's video take on today's market, click here

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