Updated from 4:32 p.m. EDT

Stocks in New York opened the second quarter with gains Wednesday as Wall Street brushed off weak employment data and focused on better-than-expected gauges of economic activity elsewhere.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 152.68 points, or 2%, to 7761.60, while the S&P 500 added 13.21, or 1.7%, to 811.08. The Nasdaq Composite climbed 23.01 points, or 1.5%, to 1551.60.

Leading the Dow, American Express ( AXP) gained 7.4%, while Citigroup ( C) and JP Morgan Chase ( JPM) tacked on 5.9% each.

Perhaps helping the financials, the Financial Accounting Standards Board will vote Thursday on whether to make changes to fair value, or mark-to-market, accounting rules.

Meanwhile, Toyota ( TM) and Ford ( F) were also on the rise, adding 7.3% and 4.2%, respectively, after some automakers reported that sales picked up at the end of March despite being down drastically for the month overall.

A number of economic reports were in, and some of them were better than expected.

One that wasn't contained new information on the job market. Two days ahead of the government's payroll data, ADP reported a loss of 742,000 jobs in the private sector in March, far more than the expectation for 663,000.

"Keep in mind that ADP underestimated the damage pretty severely most of last year, to the point where most people discounted it," says Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank. After an adjustment the report has tended to overshoot unemployment, says Ablin, "so given the more recent history, perhaps it's not going to be as bad as it seems."

In some of the day's better-than-expected data, construction spending declined less severely than expected in February. It fell 0.9%, compared with expectations for a 1.9% drop and a 3.5% decline in January.

As for other data, the Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index was roughly in line with expectations, rising 0.5 to 36.3 in March. Pending home sales data, which fell more than 7% in January, were up 2.1% in February, while economists hadn't predicted a change.

"It's slow going, one bit at a time, but what it says is that certainly the over-the-top stimulus is starting to come through with higher numbers," says Ablin.

Aside from economic data, news was flowing in from the tech and auto industries.

Blackberry maker Research in Motion ( RIMM) launched its one-stop shop for add-on applications on Wednesday, similar to Apple ( AAPL) and other smartphone makers. Meanwhile, Skype announced new client versions of its mobile phone software for BlackBerries and iPhones at the CTIA cellular industry show in Las Vegas.

Research in Motion shares added 5.8%, and Apple tacked on 3.4%.

Automakers continue the struggle to transform, and in the latest development, Honda ( HMC) is offering voluntary buyouts , cutting workers' pay and implementing 13 nonproduction days at its North American plants to scale back its output. Shares rose 9.3% to $25.90.

In the U.S., President Obama believes a quick, negotiated bankruptcy is likely the best medium for General Motors ( GM) to restructure and become a competitive automaker, according to a published report.

Earlier this week, Chrysler and GM got one last chance from the U.S. government to qualify for more taxpayer aid, while Toyota ( TM) cut its annual dividend for the first time in 14 years.

Ford said its sales fell 41% in March, while its retail-market share was the highest since December 2006. Toyota reported that its U.S. sales fell 39% in the month.

GM fared worse, with sales declining 45% in March. One potentially good sign for the automakers was that both GM and Ford said sales picked up substantially at the end of the month. GM shares declined 0.5% to $1.93.

On Thursday the leaders of the world's biggest economies will gather at a G-20 summit and discuss global efforts to stem the financial crises.

Taking a look at commodities, oil fell $1.27 to settle at $48.39 a barrel. Gold added $2.70 to $927.70 an ounce.

Commercial inventories of crude rose by 2.8 million barrels to 359.4 million barrels in the week ended March 27, the Energy Information Administration said, relatively in line with estimates.

However, gasoline inventories increased by 2.2 million barrels to 216.8 million barrels, contrasting expectations for a decrease. Distillates, which were also expected to decline, increased more modestly.

Longer-dated Treasuries were recently rising, with the 10-year up 2/32, to yield 2.66%, while the 30-year was gaining 19/32 and yielding 3.50%. The dollar was slightly weaker against the yen and stronger vs. the euro and pound.

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