We've got breadth. We've got earnings. We've got lower rates -- who could ask for anything more? Who could ask for anything more!

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

, at least today, reminded everyone how far a little bit of strong earnings indications (remember those?) can take an average. The Dow closed up 253.16 to 11,119.86, closing above 11,000 for the first time since Feb. 3, led by

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

and

Nasdaq

stalwart

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

, which helped pull the

Nasdaq Composite Index

to an impressive rise of 75.94, or 1.6%, to 4940.69.

The

S&P 500

advanced smartly, finishing up 26.71, or 1.8%, to a record 1527.35.

"It was another bull session across the board," said Matt McDermott, a trader at

Cantor Fitzgerald

. "It's basically being attributed to first-quarter outlooks that are pretty good. "

Translation: It's all about GE. The stock surged again today after a

Lehman Brothers

upgrade. The company's been a tank this week, after saying two days ago that it expects to exceed first-quarter estimates, and it rose 8 5/8 to 159 1/2 today, contributing 42 points to the Dow's gain.

Meanwhile,

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

rose 9, or 8.7%, to 111 7/8 after

The Wall Street Journal

reported this morning that the company was reportedly moving closer to a settlement in its federal antitrust case. (

TheStreet.com/NYTimes.com

joint newsroom wrote a

story on this earlier.)

But Microsoft's news is germane mostly to that stock. The continued strength in GE as a stock and as a company, amid the

Fed's

efforts to slow the economy and a full year of higher interest rates, has positive implications for the broader market, because the company has its hands in many pies.

"Frankly, GE in a lot of ways

is

the market," said Mike Vogelzang, president and CIO at

Boston Advisors

, a subsidiary of

Advest

. "When a company with that much exposure to the economic environment says its profits are tracking ahead of plan, well, it's bleeding into everything that's out there."

Include among those groups basic industries, banks and consumer products. And each of those sectors had its own good news today:

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

(MWD)

reported stronger-than-expected quarterly earnings, pacing that stock and other banks and brokers. That stock rose 5% to 94 3/4.

J.P. Morgan

(JPM) - Get Report

gained 7 1/16 to 136 1/8,

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

rose 8 1/8 to 155 7/8 and

Merrill Lynch

(MER)

gained 5 to 109 15/16.

Sherwin-Williams

(SHW) - Get Report

said its earnings would exceed consensus estimates, and it brushed on an additional 9/16 to 21 15/16.

Preannouncement Season Painless So Far

These positive reports, coming after a number of choppy weeks in the market, are heartening at a time when the market is entering the earnings preannouncement period. That can be a nerve-racking, volatile period, as corporate executives swallow their pride and let the world know why the company accountants have been sobbing themselves to sleep or getting in bar fights.

"We're bracing for a choppy period and it's turning into a good-news period," said Vogelzang.

The overall year-over-year earnings comparison is likely to come out favorably, because the first quarter of 1999 was still a period of suffering for companies coming out from the 1998 emerging-markets crisis. But that doesn't alter the current picture that market participants are garnering of the economy -- that the Federal Reserve, for all its bluster about current stock prices, is focused on incrementally slowing the economy to ward off inflation. Strategists, right or wrong, believe the ballyhooed "soft landing" will be achieved.

"Market participants are convinced that we're looking forward to another soft landing, which is a positive," said Syl Marquardt, research director at

John Hancock Funds

. "The market is correctly sniffing out the end of rate hikes and a slowdown in the next few months, and they're discounting that."

That's partially evidenced in the strength in the banks in recent weeks, which respond favorably to lower interest rates.

Chase Manhattan

(CMB)

, a strong banks that rebounded easily from the late-February decline in financial stocks, reached a new closing high today, up 6 15/16 to 98 1/2. The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange/KBW Bank Index

closed up 4% today, gaining 17% during the last month.

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

rose 5 1/4 to 87 today, partially motivated by a

CNBC

TST Recommends

news report indicating that

News Corp.

(NWS) - Get Report

would attempt to buy the company -- yes, buy the whole company, as a way to get GM's

Hughes Electronics

(GMH)

unit. News Corp., which lost 1 3/4, denied the report.

The

New York Stock Exchange's

most active was

Compaq

(CPQ)

, which finished the day down 3 to 29 1/4 on 54 million shares.

Among the Nasdaq's other leaders were the big-cap technology names, including

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

, which was the

Nasdaq Stock Market's

most active, added 5 15/16 to 77 13/16 on 76.8 million shares;

Oracle

(ORCL) - Get Report

, which rose to a new closing high today of 86 7/8, a 3 1/8 gain, and

Sun Microsystems

(SUNW) - Get Report

, which gained 1 1/16 to 97 13/16.

Telecommunications names were also stronger, led by

Nextel Communications

(NXTL)

, up 5 3/16 to 159 1/16 and

Level 3 Communications

(LVLT)

, rising 4 7/8 to 110 7/8.

Not All Upside

It was a lousy day for a couple of the Nasdaq's most prominent sectors. Biotechnology and semiconductors were stuck in a rut for the duration.

The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index

finished down 1.5%.

Rambus

(RMBS) - Get Report

lost 3%.

The

Nasdaq Biotechnology Index

fell 3%.

Protein Design Labs

(PDLI) - Get Report

continues to trade like a company that hasn't been eating enough of them, losing 8%;

Amgen

(AMGN) - Get Report

lost 4 3/16 to 57 11/16.

The Internet lost its mojo late in the day, with bellwethers such as

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

finishing down 5 7/16 to 191.

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

index lost 17.39 to 1253.27. The

Russell 2000

, meanwhile, rose 2.6 to 573.79.

The

Dow Jones Transportation Average

rose 69.11 to 2720.76, while the

Dow Jones Utilities Average

gained 1.94 to 288.95.

The Treasury market was rocked on words from Treasury Undersecretary Gary Gensler, who told a Congressional committee that so-called agency debt's line of credit is largely "symbolic." While bonds of

Fannie Mae

and

Freddie Mac

fell, the benchmark 10-year Treasury bond rallied, gaining 9/32 to 103 2/32 to yield 6.082%. The 30-year bond rose 22/32 to 104 22/32, to yield 5.914%. (For more on the fixed-income market, see today's

Bond Focus .)

Market Internals

Breadth was strong on heavy volume.

New York Stock Exchange

: 1,830 advancers, 1,157 decliners, 1.06 billion shares. 99 new highs, 34 new lows.

Nasdaq Stock Market

: 2,179 advancers, 2,062 decliners, 1.68 billion shares. 109 new highs, 63 new lows.

For a look at more stocks in the news, see the Company Report, published separately.