CLOSING BELL: Healthy profits push stocks higher yet; Nasdaq crosses 6,000
NEW YORK — Profits are climbing for companies, and so are their stock prices.
More big businesses joined the earnings parade Tuesday, saying their profits were even larger in the first three months of the year than analysts were expecting, including Caterpillar and McDonald's. The encouraging reports pushed U.S. indexes to their second straight day of big gains, placing them either close to or firmly in record territory.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 14.46 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,388.61. It's within a third of a percent of its all-time high, set at the start of March.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained even more due to the big jumps for Caterpillar and McDonald's, which are among the 30 stocks in the average. The Dow rose 232.23 points, or 1.1 percent, to 20,996.12.
The Nasdaq rose 41.67, or 0.7 percent, to 6,025.49, its first move above 6,000 points. The Russell 2000 of smaller-company stocks was up 13.13 points, or 0.9 percent, at 1,411.08.
"Earnings have come through quite nicely so far," said Ernie Cecilia, chief investment officer at Bryn Mawr Trust. "They're beating forecasts, the numbers have been quite good and this is now the second consecutive quarter that's happened."
After struggling for years with a slow global economy and weak oil prices, big U.S. businesses are in the midst of reporting their best quarter of profit growth in years, analysts say.
Companies in the S&P 500 are on track to report overall growth of about 10 percent in first-quarter earnings per share, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. This is a particularly busy week, with more than a third of the companies in the S&P 500 scheduled to unveil their first-quarter results.
Many investors say strong profit reports are necessary to justify the big gains stocks have made. Stock prices in recent years have been climbing faster than earnings, which has led skeptics to call the market overly pricey.
Caterpillar soared $7.61, or 7.9 percent, to $104.42 after reporting stronger revenue and profits for the first quarter than analysts expected. It also raised its forecast for full-year results.
And it wasn't the only big industrial company to cite signs of optimism among customers. 3M said sales improved in all its markets around the world, while reporting stronger quarterly earnings than expected.
Such encouraging talk about the economy's strength raises hopes that revenues and profits can keep rising for companies, which could rein in worries about stocks being expensive.
McDonald's jumped $7.47, or 5.6 percent, to $141.70 after likewise surprising investors with better-than-expected results. New items on its menu helped it to drive sales at its U.S. restaurants.
Ryder System was among the relatively few stocks to fall on Tuesday. It lost $11.00, or 13.9 percent, to $68.28 after weaker-than-expected rental demand pushed it to report lower quarterly results than analysts had forecast.
Slightly more than two stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange.