NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose on Thursday for a third straight day, with the S&P 500 at a 2-1/2 month high, as earnings from technology companies and expectations for more monetary stimulus outweighed weak economic data.
So far in this earnings season a majority of companies have beaten analysts' lowered expectations. In the latest boost, IBM raised its full-year outlook, eBay's profit beat forecasts and Qualcomm said its expects a "strong December quarter."
"Europe has been quiet and earnings news, while not earth-shattering, is slightly better than expected," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co. in Lake Oswego, Oregon. "A trading range environment is how we see it."
Weak manufacturing and employment data as well as falling revenue at investment bank Morgan Stanley, which sent its shares down more than 5 percent, capped gains in the wider market. The S&P financial index fell 1 percent.
Even so, expectations that the Federal Reserve will soon step up stimulus efforts have helped the market shake off bad news. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said this week that the U.S. central bank would act if the outlook worsened.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 34.66 points, or 0.27 percent, to 12,943.36. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 3.73 points, or 0.27 percent, to 1,376.51. The Nasdaq Composite Index added 23.30 points, or 0.79 percent, to 2,965.90.
But despite the Nasdaq's out-performance compared with the other indexes, decliners in the index beat advancers by a ratio of more than 5 to 4. Investors like to see advancers beating decliners by a wide margin to confirm market strength.
The S&P is at its highest level since early May. Some investors are pointing to a trading range between recent highs above 1,400 and a low in June around 1,280.
"People are focusing on individual stocks after earnings and trying to figure out (through) outlooks how weak the economy really is," said Giri Cherukuri, head trader at OakBrook Investments in Lisle, Illinois.
"It is baked into stock prices that growth is going to be slow for a little while," he said.
Manufacturing in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region shrank for a third month and home resales were lower than forecast. That came shortly after a report showed more Americans applied for unemployment insurance in the latest week.
IBM shares jumped 3.8 percent to $195.34, making it the largest boost to the Dow industrials a day after it raised its full-year profit forecast.
Semiconductor company Qualcomm cut its revenue and earnings forecast for the current quarter, but investors took heart as it said sales would improve for a strong last quarter of 2012, sending its shares up 4.2 percent to $58.43.
EBay shares jumped 8.6 percent to $43.95 after it posted stronger-than-expected quarterly revenue and earnings as more consumers shopped on its online marketplaces and used its PayPal payment service.
Morgan Stanley fell 5.3 percent to $13.25 as quarterly revenue declined due to a slowdown in trading and dealmaking volumes. The company will cut 1,000 employees by the end of this year.
Of the 19 percent of S&P 500 companies reporting earnings so far, 65 percent have beaten expectations, slightly better than average since 1994, according to Thomson Reuters data.
U.S.-traded shares of Mellanox Technologies touched their life-time high after the chipmaker's profit beat analysts' expectations. Mellanox, up about 41.5 percent at $93.90, was the biggest boost to the PHLX semiconductor index.
Outside the tech sector, Textron shares rallied 11.5 percent to $26.50 after the world's largest maker of corporate jets, which also makes EZ-Go golf carts and industrial components, handily beat Wall Street forecasts.
Walgreen shares soared 11.7 percent to $34.62 and Express Scripts Holding added 1.9 percent to $58.76 after the companies said they struck a pharmacy network agreement that settles a long-running dispute.
Walgreen competitor CVS Caremark fell 6.2 percent to $45.43.
Shares of Johnson Controls, the battery and auto interiors company, tumbled 7.9 percent to $26.07 after it posted a lower-than-expected quarterly profit and cut its outlook for the current period.
About 6.5 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and Amex, compared with the 50-day moving average of 6.7 billion shares.
(Editing by Kenneth Barry)