Wall Street gained, with the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq touching record highs, amid optimism about US corporate earnings.

Shares of Morgan Stanley climbed, up 3.3 per cent as of 3.45pm, after the US bank's latest quarterly results beat expectations. For a second straight quarter, Morgan Stanley posted more fixed-income revenue than Goldman Sachs, reporting the smallest drop among top US investment banks on Wednesday, according to Bloomberg.

"We think we've made the right decisions and the results over the last five quarters in a row show we're credible and critically sized" in bond trading, Morgan Stanley Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Pruzan told Reuters.

Shares of Vertex Pharmaceuticals soared, up 21.3 per cent as of 3.39pm, after it announced better-than-expected results of a cystic fibrosis treatment.

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Bucking the trend were shares of IBM which dropped after it reported disappointing revenue that fuelled concern about the company's outlook.

Also sliding were shares of United Continental, down 6 per cent as of 3.50pm in New York, as the airline offered an outlook for passenger unit revenue that failed to meet expectations.

In 3.16pm trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.2 per cent, while the Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 0.6 per cent. In 3pm trading, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index advanced 0.5 per cent.

The S&P 500 reached a record high 2,471.95, while the Nasdaq touched a record high 6,387.73.

The Dow rose as gains in shares of Cisco and those of Boeing, recently up 1.4 per cent and 1.3 per cent respectively, outweighed slides in shares of IBM and those of Wal-Mart, recently down 4.6 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index finished the day with a gain of 0.8 per cent from the previous close. Germany's DAX Index increased 0.2 per cent, the UK's FTSE 100 Index added 0.6 per cent, while France's CAC40 Index gained 0.8 per cent.

European Central Bank policy makers gather on Thursday, and investors will scrutinise President Mario Draghi's post-meeting comments for any clues about the timing for a change towards its stimulus program.

"Markets are now betting it is only a matter of when the ECB starts preparing the ground for a slow retreat from its stimulus program," Michael Hewson, a market analyst at CMC Markets in London, wrote in a note, Bloomberg reported. "Draghi will certainly have his work cut out in keeping a lid on the euro at this rate."

Shares of Reckitt Benckiser Group closed 1.6 per cent higher in London as McCormick agreed to acquire the company's food business for US$4.2 billion.