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US stocks move higher as earnings get underway

Ken Sweet, AP Markets Writer

FILE - In this Tuesday, April 8, 2014 file photo, specialist Jason Hardzewicz, left, works at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. A solid start to the U.S. quarterly corporate reporting season helped shore up the mood across financial markets on Wednesday, ahead of the minutes to the last policy meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks were higher for a second day in a row Wednesday, helped by surprisingly strong earnings from aluminum giant Alcoa. Technology stocks recovered from a drubbing they took over the past week.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose seven points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,859 as of 1:40 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 75 points, or 0.5 percent, to 16,331 and the Nasdaq composite rose 33 points, or 0.8 percent, to 4,146.

A IS FOR: Alcoa rose 40 cents, or 3 percent, to $12.93, after the company's first-quarter earnings came in well ahead of analysts' forecasts. The aluminum maker is typically the first large U.S. corporation to report its results every quarter.

MATERIAL WORLD: Alcoa's results helped push other mining and materials stocks higher. U.S. Steel rose 2 percent; industrial parts company W.W. Grainger climbed 1.5 percent; auto parts company Delphi increased 2 percent.

EARNINGS WORRIES: Investors are concerned that corporate earnings for the first three months of the year will be slowed by the severe winter weather that plagued most of the country. Earnings are expected to fall 1.6 percent from a year earlier, according to financial data provider FactSet. If that forecast proves correct, it would be the first time corporate profits have fallen since the third quarter of 2012.

THE QUOTE: "We're going to see lousy results, but I think we'll still see optimistic forecasts from companies," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer with BMO Private Bank in Chicago. "Companies lost a lot of business in the first couple months of the year, but most of that business, I suspect, will come back."

DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? Intuitive Surgical, the maker of robotic surgical equipment, slumped $34.70, or 7 percent, to $455.12. It warned that first-quarter sales would be drastically lower than previously expected. Intuitive Surgical, like many other biotechnology stocks, has endured some steep drops recently. It traded as high as $541.23 last Thursday.

HOTEL VACANCY: La Quinta Holdings, the parent company of the hotel chain La Quinta Inns, rose 63 cents, or 4 percent, to $17.59 on its first day of trading. La Quinta is owned by the private equity firm Blackstone Group and was taken public this week in a $650 million IPO.

ECONOMY WATCH: The Federal Reserve will release minutes from its March policy meeting at around 2 p.m. Eastern. Also, the government reported that U.S. wholesale businesses increased their stockpiles for an eighth consecutive month in February. Their sales rose at the fastest pace since November.

BONDS AND COMMODITIES: Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged up to 2.72 percent from 2.68 percent late Tuesday. The price of crude oil rose 55 cents to $103.10 a barrel. Gold fell $3 to $1,306 an ounce.