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Associated Press, Published April 20 2012

Microsoft, McDonalds help push stocks higher

NEW YORK — Stronger profits from Microsoft, McDonald's and other major U.S. corporations pushed stocks higher Friday. Optimism from Europe helped brighten the mood.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 88 points to 13,052 at 1:30 p.m. in New York.

“There's been a wrestling match all week long between strong earnings and weak economic data,” said Lawrence Creatura, a portfolio manager at Federated Investors, the money-management firm. “At the moment, earnings are winning.”

Before the market opened, McDonald's posted better quarterly profits, buoyed by warm weather and sales of new menu items like Chicken McBites and oatmeal. Sales picked up even in Europe, McDonald's’ biggest market, despite economic turmoil and severe weather.

Microsoft beat analysts’ projections with quarterly earnings and revenue, and sales in its Windows division were surprisingly strong. And General Electric posted a profit of more than $3 billion, helped by orders for locomotives, aircraft engines and other equipment.

In Europe, Germany's DAX rose 1.2 percent, and other major stock indexes were slightly higher. A closely watched survey in Germany, the continent's economic powerhouse, showed business optimism rising for the sixth straight month. Economists had expected a decline.

In other trading, the Standard & Poor's 500 index added six points to 1,383. The Nasdaq composite index rose 10 points to 3,018.

All three indexes appear headed for weekly gains. The Dow is up 1.8 percent for the week, but it hasn't been a smooth ride. Better earnings reports and higher retail sales helped drive the stock market up to start the week. The Dow rose 194 points on Tuesday, its best day in more than a month.

Then worries about Europe came storming back. Markets reversed course Wednesday, after the Bank of Spain said that the amount of bad loans held by Spanish banks rose to an 18-year high.

If those banks falter, it would put pressure on Spain's already troubled government to prop them up. Weak reports on jobs, housing and manufacturing in the U.S. added to the selling pressure. The Dow slumped 151 points in two days.

“It's been like the weather here in upstate New York — unpredictable,” Creatura said. “One day is up, the next day is down.”

With no worrying news out of Europe on Friday, U.S. Treasury prices fell for just the second time this week. The price of the 10-year Treasury dropped slightly, nudging its yield to 1.98 percent from 1.97 percent the day before.

Among stocks making big moves in the United States:

• Oil services giant Schlumberger Ltd. rose 4 percent. The company's quarterly profits jumped almost 38 percent as strong drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico and the Middle East offset a slowdown in North America's natural gas fields. Schlumberger said that world oil demand appears to have “stabilized” and that the risk of a double-dip recession has declined.

• E-Trade Financial Corp. jumped 6.8 percent, the largest gain in the S&P 500. The online broker reported a 40 percent jump in first-quarter profit after the close of trading Thursday, beating Wall Street estimates with the help of a big tax benefit.

• SanDisk Corp. plummeted 13 percent, the S&P's biggest loser. The flash memory maker said late Thursday that weak demand and low prices cut its quarterly profit by nearly half. SanDisk warned that it expects the trend to continue.