Wall Street advanced as solid economic data and a sigh of relief for the health care industry underpinned sentiment.

The latest data on the US economy bolstered expectations that the recovery is on track at a pace that will also safeguard the Federal Reserve's backing.

Factory orders advanced 3 per cent in February, slightly ahead of economists' expectations for a 2.9 per cent gain.

"Good numbers are good and bad numbers are good because it keeps the Fed at the side of the market," Burt White, managing director and chief investment officer at LPL Financial in Boston, told Reuters. "The market continues to move higher, driven by the premise of stimulus."


In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.65 per cent, as did the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, while the Nasdaq Composite Index gained 0.73 per cent.

Health care stocks gained after the government said it will lift payments for private Medicare Advantage insurers by 3.3 per cent, scrapping its original plans to lower rates.

Shares of Humana rose 6.5 per cent, while those of UnitedHealth climbed 4.9 per cent.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index ended the session with a 1.3 per cent advance from the previous close. Most European markets had been closed for the Easter holidays on Friday and Monday.

Benchmark stock indexes in London, Frankfurt and Paris rose as well, adding 1.2 per cent, 1.9 per cent and 2 per cent respectively.

The tone of Wall Street helped boost the mood in the euro zone, outweighing the latest batch of disappointing clues on the regional economy.

Euro-zone unemployment climbed to a record 12 per cent in February, according to the European Union's statistics office. The January figure was also revised up to 12 per cent, from an earlier estimate of 11.9 per cent.

A gauge of manufacturing in the region dropped to 46.8 in March, the lowest in three months, and down from 47.9 in February, according to Markit Economics.


"It's a mix of the weaker-than-expected PMI data and the rise in the unemployment rate," Brian Daingerfield, a currency strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group's RBS Securities unit in Stamford, Connecticut, told Bloomberg.

"With those two pieces of data coming in soft, along with general weakening in some of the macro data we've seen, there may be some expectations being priced in for additional ECB easing."

The ECB's policymakers meet on Thursday.