Positive earnings from Dow Jones Industrial Average component American Express (AXP)   brought a spring to Wall Street's step on Thursday and drove the bulk of gains on benchmark indexes. 

The Dow added 0.86%, the S&P 500 rose 0.76%, and the Nasdaq climbed 0.92%. 

American Express gained 5.9% following a first-quarter earnings beat. The credit card company reported earnings of $1.34 a share on revenue of $7.9 billion. Analysts anticipated $1.28 a share in earnings on sales of roughly $7.7 billion. Excluding its Costco- (COST) related revenue, adjusted sales came in 7% higher than a year earlier. 

So far, 16% of S&P 500 companies have reported on their quarters and nearly a third of Dow companies have reported or will report this week. Analysts anticipate blended earnings growth of almost 11%, according to Thomson Reuters.

"First-quarter earnings season for the S&P 500, while admittedly still unfolding, appears to be positioning well for upside surprises that could deliver earnings growth of around 9%, in line with consensus expectations and perhaps even better than that," said John Stoltzfus, chief investment strategist at Oppenheimer.

Stocks added to gains late Thursday afternoon after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin eased investors' concerns over delays to tax reform. A tax reform package is advancing and will not be tied to the outcome of efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, Mnuchin said in comments at the Institute of International Finance. Mnuchin said the plan would "pay for itself."

Qualcomm  (QCOM) turned slightly higher after reporting better-than-expected earnings and sales over its fiscal second quarter. Per-share earnings of $1.34 a share beat expectations of $1.19, while revenue of $5.99 billion came in higher than analysts' targets of $5.89 billion. Qualcomm's third-quarter profit guidance of 90 cents to $1.15 a share bracketed estimates of $1.09.

The chipmaker is currently embroiled in two different lawsuits over high patent fees, including a $1 billion claim against it by Apple (AAPL) . The company, which is one of Apple's suppliers, said it is not clear whether Apple's contract manufacturers will underpay royalties owed under their contracts this quarter. 

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Verizon (VZ) declined 1.1% after just falling shy of profit estimates over its first quarter and reporting a decline in revenue. Adjusted earnings of 95 cents a share came in a penny short of estimates. Revenue fell to $29.81 billion over the quarter, down from $32.17 a year earlier and below consensus of $30.41 billion. Wireless customers fell for the first time. The telecom committed to previous 2017 guidance. 

Travelers (TRV) reported a drop in quarterly profit as catastrophe losses rose over the first quarter. The insurance company earned net income of $2.17 a share over its recent quarter, down from $2.30 a share a year earlier and below estimates of $2.37 a share. CEO Alan Schnitzer said the company saw "unusually high first quarter catastrophe losses that arose from a record number of tornado and hail events."

Fellow insurer Allstate (ALL) said it anticipates first-quarter catastrophe losses to equal roughly $508 million. Allstate said severe hail in Texas in March accounted for a third of the total losses for the quarter. The company is set to report its first-quarter performance on May 2. 

Alliance Data Systems (ADS) rocketed 8% higher on Thursday after topping earnings and profit estimates and recommitting to its previous quarterly dividend of 52 cents a share. Earnings of $3.91 a share beat estimates by a nickel, while revenue climbed nearly 12% to $1.88 billion. 

Railway operator CSX ( CSX)  exceeded analysts' estimates on its top- and bottom-lines. Earnings of 51 cents a share topped consensus by 8 cents. Revenue climbed nearly 10% to $2.87 billion, $110 million above estimates. The company also hiked its quarterly dividend by 11% to 20 cents a share and authorized a new $1 billion share buyback program.
 

eBay (EBAY) fell 3% after earnings and sales came in largely in-line with estimates. The auction site earned 49 cents a share, just a penny higher than expected. Revenue rose 3.7% to $2.22 billion, meeting analysts' consensus. eBay said total global active buyers surged by 2 million over the first quarter to 169 million.

Foot Locker (FL) drove gains in consumer stocks despite warning of lower profit in its first quarter than previously anticipated. The athletic footwear retailer expects first-quarter earnings between $1.36 to $1.39 a share, while same-store sales should rise in the low single-digit percentages. Analysts anticipated earnings of $1.47 a share, though same-store sales expectations were in-line. CEO Richard Johnson said the slower arrival time of income tax refunds had contributed to disappointing February same-store sales.

Foot Locker shook off earlier losses after Buckingham Research upgraded its rating on the stock to buy from neutral, advising investors to look past a potentially disappointing first quarter.

Other consumer names in the green included Lowe's (LOW) , Starbucks (SBUX) , Nike (NKE) , TJX Cos. (TJX) , Las Vegas Sands (LVS) and Tesla (TSLA) . The Consumer Discretionary SPDR ETF (XLY) added 1%.

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Buffalo Wild Wings' (BWLD) activist investor Marcato Capital Management wants the restaurant chain to oust CEO Sally Smith in addition to the four board seats it has already been seeking. In a proxy filing, Marcato managing partner Mick McGuire said, "The status quo is unacceptable -- oversight and accountability must be restored." McGuire said Marcato's nominees would "recapture operating margin opportunities, allocate capital intelligently, and employ an efficient franchising plan."

A Buffalo Wild Wings spokesperson responded in a statement that the company had flourished under Smith's leadership and that the wings chain had "continued to innovate and pursue cost savings initiatives amid difficult market conditions for the sector."

The stock rose 6%.

Weekly jobless claims in the U.S. rose over the past week, though held at multi-year lows. New claims for unemployment benefits increased by 10,000 in the last week to 244,000. The four-week jobless claims average fell by 4,250 to 243,000. Continuing jobless claims came in at 1.98 million, a 17-year low. 

Manufacturing activity in Philadelphia eased in April after reaching its highest level in three decades earlier in the year. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve's manufacturing index declined to 22 from 32.8 in March. The measure hit a 33-year high of 43.3 in February. The index remains above zero, indicating expansion.  

Wall Street continued to look to geopolitical developments for direction on Thursday. A recent statement from Donald Trump that the U.S. wants peace followed by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley's message to North Korea on Wednesday that, "We're not trying to pick a fight" appeared to help take the edge off of recent worries over brewing tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.

Meanwhile, state media in North Korea warned the U.S. of a "super-mighty pre-emptive strike" on Thursday after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested he would find ways to be harder on the country over its nuclear program. Tillerson said on Wednesday that he was considering ways to "bring pressure on the regime in Pyongyang to re-engage with us, but re-engage with us on a different footing than past talks have been held."

Steel stocks surged after Trump met with a number of industry CEOs and promised to investigate whether steel imports were impeding national security. AK Steel (AKS) , United States Steel (X) , Steel Dynamics (STLD)  and Commercial Metals Company (CMC) were all higher. 

Ocwen Financial (OCN) plummeted 53% on Thursday on a ruling in North Carolina that prohibited the company from acquiring new mortgage service rights or creating new mortgages. The court has ruled the cease and desist will stay in place until Ocwen can prove its financial stability. 

Crude oil prices gave back earlier gains. Commodities received a boost earlier in the day after Saudi Arabia's energy minister said Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries members could extend their production cap agreement beyond an original June deadline. Current production caps have removed 1.8 million barrels of crude from the global market each day. 

West Texas Intermediate crude for May delivery closed down 0.3% at $50.27 a barrel on Thursday. 

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