Wall Street advanced as investors eyed the results of Alcoa due after the close of the market today to gauge whether the recent weakness in US economic numbers is going to be reflected in corporate profits.
Expectations are modest to say the least. S&P 500 companies' earnings probably rose 1.6 per cent from a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data, while analysts polled by Bloomberg News forecast that profits at S&P 500 companies fell 1.8 per cent in the latest quarter.
CEOs "have given lower and lower expectations, that anybody who doesn't meet expectations in this quarter is going to be punished severely," Joe Kinahan, chief derivatives strategist at Omaha, Nebraska-based TD Ameritrade Holding, told Bloomberg. "While those that beat won't necessarily be rewarded, it'll keep their stocks from being annihilated."
Investors will also be watching out for the latest comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke who is scheduled to speak in Atlanta later today at the 2013 Financial Markets Conference.
In afternoon trading in New York, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 0.23 per cent, while the Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.22 per cent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged 0.03 per cent lower.
Shares of Lufkin jumped, last up 37.5 per cent, after GE said it will buy the company for about US$3.3 billion-a sign that the conglomerate wants to tap into America's shale gas and oil boom.
Alcoa's shares were up 0.9 per cent. The company is expected to report a profit of US8-cents a share, according to Bloomberg. That would represent a US2-cent decline from a year ago and reflect weak aluminium prices.
In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index gained 0.2 per cent from the previous close. Benchmark stock indexes in Frankfurt and Paris advanced 0.1 per cent, while London climbed 0.4 per cent.
A bright spot on the economic front came from Germany in the form of a report showing industrial production in Europe's largest economy rose more than expected in February, increasing 0.5 per cent from January.
The yen continued its slide amid the Bank of Japan's unprecedented stimulus measures, announced last week. The yen weakened 1.7 per cent to 99.23 per US dollar, the lowest level since May 2009. And there is more to come.
"Barring any sudden spike in risk aversion, [US dollar/yen] is likely to roll through that  level as momentum remains relentless for the time being," Boris Schlossberg, managing director of FX Strategy at BK Asset Management in New York, told Reuters.
The nation's stocks, however, received a boost from expectations that corporate profits will benefit, bolstering the Nikkei stock average by 2.8 per cent to the highest level in more than four years.