Apple's earnings highlighted that corporate America is by and large weathering a storm of economic uncertainty elsewhere, while US Federal Reserve policy makers said they expect the pace of growth to gather steam.

"The committee expects economic growth to remain moderate over coming quarters and then to pick up gradually," the Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement today at the end of a two-day meeting.

Even so, the Fed warned that the US housing sector "remains depressed" and that "strains in global financial markets continue to pose significant downside risks to the economic outlook."

Underpinning a need for caution was a report showing that orders for US durable goods suffered a bigger-than-expected 4.2 per cent drop in March.


Investors chose to focus on the good news. In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 0.49 per cent and the Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 1.24 per cent. The Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 2.15 per cent, lifted by a 9 per cent jump in Apple shares.

After the market close yesterday Apple posted first-quarter profit that nearly doubled as sales of its iPhone surged, especially in China. For the quarter, Apple sold 35.1 million iPhones, which account for about half its revenue, surpassing Wall Street analyst expectations for about 30 million, according to Reuters.

The result prompted a slew of analysts to lift their target price for the stock.

Shares of Boeing also advanced, rising more than 4 per cent, as the aerospace company posted results that beat expectations and lifted its earnings forecast for the year.

US companies are beating earnings estimates at the highest rate in two years, according to Bloomberg.

"The earnings season is shaping up to be quite a bit better than expected," Mike Ryan, the New York-based chief investment strategist at UBS Wealth Management Americas, told Bloomberg. "The bar was set incredibly low. We are in a more sustainable and durable expansion."

Caterpillar fell in the category that disappointed as it reported revenue that fell short of expectations. The stock was down more than 5 per cent.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index ended the session with a 1 per cent gain for the day, as investors there too chose to focus on strong earnings including from Swedbank.


It clearly wasn't all roses as Britain's gross domestic product unexpectedly fell 0.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2012, after sliding 0.3 per cent in the previous quarter. Economists had anticipated a 0.1 per cent increase.

The surprise recession comes just as the Bank of England had appeared ready to complete its most recent round of quantitative easing amid signs of improvement.

"This could be something of a game changer for monetary policy," Investec economist Philip Shaw told Reuters. "With the weakness in the economy pervasive ... there is a genuine debate to be had over whether it is wise to suspend QE."