Wall Street up, propelled by Microsoft and Caterpillar

Gains in Microsoft shares, last up 4.1 per cent, bolstered momentum after reports that ValueAct Capital had taken a US$2 billion stake in the company.

Shares of Caterpillar also rose, last up 3.3 per cent. While the company reported earnings that fell short of expectations and downgraded its 2013 forecast, investors took heart from CEO Doug Oberhelman's comments that he was encouraged by "stability". The company also said it is reviving its share buyback program.

"This is the first year in three years where we've seen a relative degree of stability around the world," Oberhelman told CNBC. "I was just in Europe in the last two weeks at a huge construction show [and] the news wasn't doom and gloom."

He also expressed optimism about the outlook for China, even though the world's second-biggest economy last week slightly missed GDP forecasts.

In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.18 per cent, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 0.53 per cent, while the Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 0.93 per cent.

Shares of Halliburton climbed, last up 5.5 per cent, as the company's profit surpassed analysts' estimates.

Of the 106 S&P 500 that have reported so far, 72 per cent have exceeded analysts' predictions for earnings, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

"We're in the middle of earnings season and that continues to be a key driver," Richard Sichel, chief investment officer at Philadelphia Trust, told Bloomberg. "It's important to us to hear what management teams are saying, how optimistic or pessimistic they sound about future growth."

The latest US housing data were muted. Purchases of previously owned houses unexpectedly dropped 0.6 per cent to a 4.92 million annual rate last month, according to National Association of Realtors data. Still, the national median existing-home price for all housing types was US$184,300 in March, which is 11.8 per cent higher than a year earlier.

"The report suggests that the overall thrust of the sector remains positive, with the demand and supply dynamics continuing to favour further price gains," Millan Mulraine, a senior economist at TD Securities in New York, told Reuters.

The industry is suffering from a lack of inventory. Total housing inventory at the end of March increased 1.6 per cent to 1.93 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 4.7-month supply at the current sales pace, according to NAR.

"We need a housing supply of over 6 months to have a generally balanced market between home buyers and sellers, but it's unlikely we'll get there without greater increases in housing construction," Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said in a statement.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index finished the session with a gain of 0.2 per cent from the previous close. Germany's DAX rose 0.2 per cent, while France's CAC 40 closed little changed on the day, and the UK's FTSE 100 fell 0.1 per cent.

Italy's FTSE MIB Index climbed 1.7 per cent after Giorgio Napolitano was elected to a second term as Italy's president.

- BusinessDesk

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