NEW YORK - U.S. stocks rose sharply in early trading Thursday, driven by encouraging earnings from companies including Caterpillar, 3M and General Motors. Investors were also encouraged by some positive manufacturing news out of Europe.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 29 points, or 1.5 percent, to 1,956, as of 11:10 a.m. ET. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 260 points, or 1.6 percent, to 16,721. The Nasdaq composite rose 77 points, or 1.8 percent, to 4,460.
General Motors said big profits from rising SUV and truck sales in North America helped it nearly double its third-quarter net profit. The July-September quarter was also the first this year without significant charges for recalls. The company's stock rose 48 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $31.78.
The industrial sector led gains for the stock market, surging 2.3 percent, after Caterpillar and 3M reported strong earnings. Caterpillar's belt-tightening paid off in the third quarter as the manufacturer easily beat Wall Street's expectations. Even as new evidence of a global economic slowdown emerged, Caterpillar raised its outlook for earnings for the year.
Caterpillar gained $5.17, or 5.5 percent, to $99.78. 3M gained $8.05, or 5.8 percent, to $146.90.
In Europe, a survey of the manufacturing and services sectors eased some fears that the eurozone may be slipping back into recession. Financial information company Markit says its composite purchasing managers index for the 18-country bloc, a broad gauge of business activity, rose to 52.2 points in October from 52 in September. Analysts had forecast a small decline.
Although the reports from Europe "weren't fantastic," they suggested that the region would avoid sliding back into recession, said David Lebovitz, Global Market Strategist at J.P. Morgan Funds. Concerns about slowing growth in Europe, crimping the outlook for the global economy, helped push stocks sharply lower last week.
"It almost feels like the markets can breathe a sigh of relief for the time being," he said. "That, combined with the earnings numbers, is what's driving the market."
Solid earnings are underpinning the stock market. Companies in the S&P 500 have reported earnings growth of 5.4 percent for the third quarter, according to analysts at S&P Capital IQ. The rate of growth has slowed from 10.4 percent in the second quarter, but is forecast to pick up in the final three months of the year.
European markets fluctuated between gains and losses. France's CAC-40 rose 1.2 percent. Germany's DAX gained 1.1 percent and Britain's FTSE 100 was little changed.
Oil prices stabilized after trading lower earlier on a report from the U.S Energy Department that showed oil inventories grew far more than expected. Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.46 to $81.96 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell $1.97 a barrel on Wednesday. The slide in energy prices in the past two weeks has raised doubts about the strength of the global economy but also offered some upside in Asia, where many countries rely heavily on imported fuel.
The dollar was little changed against the euro, trading at $1.2657. The dollar climbed to 108.17 yen. U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.28 percent.