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Stocks soar to finish at highest levels of 2016

U.S. stocks advanced on Wednesday, pushing benchmark indexes their highest levels this year, after earnings from banking powerhouse JPMorgan Chase topped estimates and amid evidence that China's economy is stabilizing.

Wednesday's market action "is a good example of (how) even weak earnings can be a market driver," said Jim Russell, a principal and portfolio manager at Bahl & Gaynor Investment Counsel. "Most markets participants knew the first-quarter results would be a little sloppy."

"And the Chinese trade data are a very constructive and welcome development, as that has been a major market concern from mid-year of last year," said Russell. "We're all connected, so if all of our trading partners are struggling," the U.S. is bound to be impacted, he added.

China said exports rose for the first time in nine months.

Closing at its highest since early November, the Dow industrials (DJI) rose 187 points, or 1.1 percent, to 17,908. JPMorgan Chase (JPM) was the biggest blue-chip riser after reporting quarterly earnings that topped expectations. Verizon Communications (VZ) was among the Dow's decliners, with a strike starting early in the day by about 39,000 of the company's workers.

Financial and technology shares led gains on the S&P 500 (SPX), which climbed nearly 21 points, or 1 percent, to 2,082.

The Nasdaq Composite (COMP) added 75 points, or 1.6 percent, to 4,947.

Retail sales unexpectedly declined in March, down 0.3 percent after holding little changed the previous month, the Commerce Department reported, with a sharp decline in auto sales holding consumer spending back.