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NEW YORK — The Dow and the S&P 500 climbed to record intraday highs on Thursday, buoyed by a batch of better-than-expected earnings, as congressional testimony by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke continued into its second day.

The Toronto stock market was higher Thursday amid relief over continued support for economic stimulus from the U.S. Federal Reserve and mixed commodity prices.

The S&P/TSX composite index was up 104.74 points to 12,673.51, led by gains in energy stocks and financials.

The Canadian dollar was ahead 0.16 of a cent to 96.18 cents US. It slid almost half a U.S. cent Wednesday after the Bank of Canada said it was in no hurry to raise its key interest rate from one per cent, where it has been for almost three years.

Shares of Morgan Stanley jumped 4.8% to US$27.80 after the bank posted a 42% increase in quarterly profit as stock trading revenue soared. The S&P financial index climbed 1.1%.

A jump in shares of UnitedHealth helped lift the Dow and other health insurers. UnitedHealth gained 5.6% to US$69.93 after the company’s results beat expectations, while the Morgan Stanley healthcare payor index rose 2.9%.

Analysts’ estimates for corporate earnings have been lowered so much that investors believe the low targets should be easily exceeded. Instead, investors will likely hone in on revenue figures and outlooks.

“Corporate America has gotten very good at setting the bar at a level where they can glide over it every quarter, and Wall Street continues to fall for it. So why ruin a good plan?” said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Equity Management LLC in San Francisco.

IBM raised its full-year outlook and reported earnings that beat estimates, though the company missed forecasts on revenue. Shares of International Business Machines rose 2.3% to US$198.99. IBM provided the top boost to the Dow and helped offset a 3.9% drop in Intel to US$23.19 after the world’s biggest chipmaker cut its full-year revenue forecast.

Analysts expect S&P 500 companies’ second-quarter earnings to have grown 3.5% from a year earlier, with revenue up 1.1%, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Of the 81 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings through Thursday so far, 70.4% have reported earnings above analysts’ expectations, while revenue has topped estimates at a 49.4% rate.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 98.03 points, or 0.63%, to 15,568.55. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained 8.82 points, or 0.52%, to 1,689.73. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 2.20 points, or 0.06%, to 3,612.20.

Both the Dow and the S&P 500 hit new intraday highs shortly after the opening bell. The Dow climbed as high as 15,589.40, while the S&P 500 touched a session high of 1,693.12.
Aside from Intel, the Nasdaq’s gains were capped by eBay. The e-commerce company’s stock slumped 6.4% to US$53.74 after eBay said full-year results would be at the low end of its forecast range.

A meeting of Dell shareholders to vote on founder Michael Dell’s US$24.4-billion offer to take the company private was adjourned to next week. Dell’s stock rose 2.3% to US$13.18.

With the benchmark S&P 500 up nearly 18% for the year, investors are alert to any signs of how soon the Federal Reserve will start to wind down the pace of its US$85-billion a month in bond purchases, a major driver of the U.S. stock market’s rally this year.

Speaking before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, Bernanke stressed that the timeline for winding down the Fed’s stimulus program was not set in stone. As the chairman continued his testimony on Thursday before the Senate Banking Committee, he said economic data since the Fed’s June meeting has been mixed. But it’s too early to make a judgment on the impact for the central bank’s forecasts, he added.

“He’s done a good job of navigating the waters,” Massocca said. “He’s got people calmed down about interest rates, but on the other hand, the economy seems to be doing OK.”

The TSX continued to benefit from traders buying up mining stocks that have been beaten up this year while commodity prices have suffered from a slow global economic recovery. Gold prices have sunk recently on speculation as to when the Fed might start to ease up on its bond purchases.

On Thursday, all TSX sectors were higher save for a slight dip in the real estate group. Advancers were led by a 1.3% rise in the financials sector while Scotiabank (TSX:BNS) advanced 81 cents to $58.85 while Manulife Financial (TSX:MFC) was ahead 36 cents to $18.34.

The energy sector gained one per cent as benchmark crude for August delivery was up $1.23 at $107.71 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after gaining 48 cents on Wednesday.

Despite cooling economic growth in China, the price of oil was underpinned by another sizable decline in U.S. oil supplies. The U.S. crude inventory fell by 6.9 million barrels last week, bringing the three-week decline to 27.1 million barrels. Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) was up 73 cents to $34.10.

The consumer staples sector was also up 0.9% with food company Saputo (TSX:SAP) ahead 88 cents to $49.63.

Shoppers Drug Mart (TSX:SC) posted quarterly earnings of $147-million or 73 cents a share, one cent above a consensus estimate and its shares added 20 cents to $60.45. The Shoppers board and management are supporting a $12.4-billion takeover offer from Loblaw (TSX:L), announced earlier this week.

Copper prices shook of early losses and the September contract on the Nymex gained one cent to US$3.14 a pound. The base metals sector edged up 0.8% and First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM) climbed 34 cents to C$16.49.

The gold sector rose 0.7% as August bullion gained $8.50 to US$1,286 an ounce. Centerra Gold (TSX:CG) improved by 11 cents to C$4.12.

Elsewhere on the earnings front, struggling cellphone maker Nokia Corp. said second-quarter sales fell to 5.7-billion euros from 7.5-billion euros in the same period last year. Net loss for the April-June period was 227-million euros, compared to a net loss of 1.41-billion euros a year earlier.

The sales figures fell short of analysts’ expectations of 6.4-billion euros and its shares fell 2.2% in New York.

U.S. telecom Verizon Communications Inc. reported quarterly net income of $5.2-billion, or 78 cents per share, up 21% from a year ago. Excluding a pension-related gain, earnings were 73 cents per share, cent better than estimates. Revenue was $29.79-billion, up more than four per cent from a year ago and in line with analyst expectations and its shares lost 1.9 per cent. Verizon’s CFO also said during a conference call that the telecom is exploring a move into Canada.

European bourses were positive with London’s FTSE 100 index up 1.13%, Frankfurt’s DAX was up 0.92% and the Paris CAC 40 rose 1.3%.

With files from Reuters, The Canadian Press

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