NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street rose modestly on Thursday on a combination of an extended easy monetary policy from the Federal Reserve, strong earnings from Caterpillar Inc and 3M Corp, as well as solid U.S. economic data.
The Fed's statement on Wednesday that it would keep interest rates near zero at least until the end of 2014 lifted stocks and commodities globally as investors bet more money would be driven into risk assets. European stock indexes gained, crude oil futures rose sharply, and copper advanced for a second day.
New orders for U.S. manufactured goods rose more than expected in December, while underlying trends continued to point to improving labor market conditions even as new U.S. claims for unemployment benefits rose last week.
"It's a combo package," said Jim Paulsen, chief investment officer at Wells Capital Management. "It's certainly being bolstered here by a few not only good earnings reports but some blowouts ... the underlying tone is this constant stream of better-than-expected economic reports."
Caterpillar Inc's <CAT.N> jump in quarterly earnings far exceeded Wall Street expectations on Thursday as it reported increased global demand for construction machinery and mining equipment. The stock rose 3 percent to $112.27.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 47.49 points, or 0.37 percent, to 12,804.45. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> rose 3.58 points, or 0.27 percent, to 1,329.64. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> added 7.99 points, or 0.28 percent, to 2,826.30.
The Fed's move comes at a busy period during U.S. earnings season. By Wednesday 57 percent of companies have beat analysts' forecasts compared to 70 percent in past quarters at a comparable stage in the earnings season.
Greece was still a wildcard for markets as its leaders resumed tortuous negotiations on a debt swap with private creditors in Athens on Thursday. All eyes on the European Central Bank after International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said public-sector holders of Greek debt may also need to take losses.
3M Co <MMM.N>, a conglomerate with operations throughout the economy, reported higher-than-expected quarterly earnings on Thursday as demand from industrial and transport markets offset weak sales to makers of consumer electronics. The shares rose 1 percent to $87.38.
The S&P 500 is up more than 23 percent from lows in October as investors welcome signs that the U.S. economy is improving and credit conditions in Europe are easing after the bloc's central bank moved to boost liquidity in the financial system.
AT&T Inc <T.N> posted a massive, $6.7 billion quarterly loss on a break-up fee for its failed T-Mobile USA merger and a pension-related charge on top of costly subsidies for smartphones. The shares fell 1 percent to $29.90.
Amgen Inc <AMGN.O>, the world's largest biotechnology company, said it would pay more than $1 billion to buy Micromet Inc <MITI.O>, a deal that would give it access to the company's novel cancer treatment technology.
Micromet's shares jumped 32 percent to $10.92 and were the most heavily traded on Nasdaq.
(Editing by Padraic Cassidy)