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Published: Friday, 4/20/2012

Stocks higher as strong earnings win a 'wrestling match' with shaky economic data


NEW YORK — Stronger profits from Microsoft, McDonald's and other major U.S. corporations pushed stocks higher Friday. Optimism from Europe helped brighten the mood.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 101 points to 13,066 a half-hour before noon.

"There's been a wrestling match all week long between strong earnings and weak economic data," said Lawrence Creatura, a portfolio manager at Federated Investors, the money-management firm. "At the moment, earnings are winning."

Before the market opened, McDonald's said that profits in the first quarter rose 5 percent, buoyed by warm weather and sales of new menu items like Chicken McBites and oatmeal.

Sales picked up even in Europe, McDonald's' biggest market, despite economic turmoil and severe weather. Stock in the world's biggest hamburger chain gained 2 percent.

The tech giant Microsoft posted quarterly earnings and revenue late Thursday that beat analysts' projections. One highlight was a 4 percent increase in sales from in its Windows division, even though sales of personal computers running Windows have been weak over the past year. Microsoft gained 5.6 percent, making it the leading stock in the Dow.

Earnings at General Electric also beat estimates. The industrial conglomerate posted more than $3 billion in quarterly profits. Orders for locomotives, aircraft engines and other equipment jumped. GE's stock rose less than 1 percent in early trading.

In other trading, the Standard & Poor's 500 index added eight points to 1,385. The Nasdaq composite index rose 19 points to 3,027.

All three indexes appeared headed for weekly gains. The Dow is up 1.7 percent for the week.

In Europe, Germany's DAX was up 1 percent, and other major stock indexes were slightly higher. A closely watched survey in Germany, the continent's economic powerhouse, showed business optimism rising for the sixth straight month. Most economists expected the index to decline. A gauge of optimism six months ahead was also positive.

Among stocks making big moves in the United States:

— Oil services giant Schlumberger Ltd. rose 4.4 percent. The company's quarterly profits jumped almost 38 percent as strong drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico and the Middle East offset a slowdown in North America's natural gas fields. Schlumberger said that world oil demand appears to have "stabilized" and that the risk of a double-dip recession has declined.

— E-Trade Financial Corp. jumped 6.5 percent. The online broker reported a 40 percent jump in first-quarter profit after the close of trading Thursday, beating Wall Street estimates with the help of a big tax benefit.

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