A bright outlook from Home Depot, which lifted its expectations for full-year results, underpinned the mood on Wall Street.
The home improvement giant posted third-quarter results that beat forecasts and provided an optimistic picture for the coming months-for its own future and that of the housing industry in general. Shares gained 3.9 per cent.
"Our third-quarter results were better than we expected and reflected, in part, what we believe is the start of the path toward the healing of the housing market," Home Depot Chief Executive Officer Frank Blake said in a statement. The housing market is becoming "an assist to growth, rather than an anchor."
In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.38 per cent, the Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.50 per cent, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index eked out a 0.03 per cent gain.
Shares of Microsoft suffered, last down 2.8 per cent, after the company said Windows President Steven Sinofsky was leaving. Microsoft had grown concerned over Sinofsky's ability to get along with other executives, including Ballmer, a person with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg News.
In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index finished with a climb of 0.4 per cent from the previous close. France's CAC 40 advanced 0.6 per cent, the UK's FTSE 100 added 0.3 per cent, while Germany's DAX rose 0.1 per cent.
Rumours that the Spanish government is preparing to ask for a full financial rescue soon supported stocks and bonds. The yield on Spain's10-year bond fell four basis points to 5.85 per cent.
Meanwhile the handwringing over Greece continued. Euro zone finance ministers agreed that the beleaguered country facing a crucial repayment this week needs more time to reduce its debt to gross domestic product ratio, suggesting the deadline for lowering it to 120 per cent should be moved to 2022, from 2020.
IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde failed to appreciate that call. "Debt sustainability of Greece has to be measured in 2020," she said, according to Bloomberg. "We clearly have different views. What matters at the end of the day is the sustainability of the Greek debt."
EU finance ministers won't decide until later this month on releasing the next tranche of bailout funds for Greece.
And there was another piece of evidence of the mounting toll of the sovereign debt crisis as German investor confidence suffered a surprise drop in November.
An index of investor and analyst expectations slid to minus 15.7 from minus 11.5 in October, according to the ZEW Center for European Economic Research.