By Abhiram Nandakumar
(Reuters) - Wall Street gains were driven by materials stocks on Monday as a weaker dollar boosted commodities, and investors turned their focus to the earnings season.
Profits at S&P 500 companies are expected to have fallen 7.7 percent on average in the first quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, under pressure from a weak global economy.
Alcoa (AA.N), seen as the unofficial start to quarterly earnings season, is set to post first-quarter results after the market closes. The company's shares rose 3.9 percent to $9.73.
Big bank earnings are also on the cards through the week, starting with JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) on Wednesday.
Crude oil, which has been a big influence on the stock market this year, was up more than 2 percent ahead of next Sunday's meeting of producers aimed at freezing output. [O/R]
The dollar pared losses after hitting 17-month lows against the yen on Monday, as Japan again warned that it could take steps to weaken its currency.
"(The market) is taking its cues from some of the overseas markets, which are getting a bit of a reprieve," said Eric Wiegand, senior portfolio manager at U.S. Bank's Private Client Reserve in New York.
Wiegand, however, cautioned that better-than-expected earnings could raise concerns about central bank intervention.
"We are likely to remain in a somewhat frustrating environment for both bulls and bears, where we're just not getting data that's materially supportive of either position," he said.
At 12:28 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) was up 72.62 points, or 0.41 percent, at 17,649.58, the S&P 500 (.SPX) was up 6.44 points, or 0.31 percent, at 2,054.04 and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) was up 18.95 points, or 0.39 percent, at 4,869.64
Six of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher, led by a 0.77 percent rise each in materials (.SPLRCM) and finance (.SPSY) sectors.
Apple (AAPL.O) rose 1.2 percent and gave the biggest boost to all three major indexes.
U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with Fed Chair Janet Yellen on Monday to discuss the economy and Wall Street reform.
Seagate (STX.O) rose 6.3 percent to $35.34 and Western Digital (WDC.O) was up 4 percent at $44.82 after Cowen started coverage on the stocks with "market perform" ratings.
National Oilwell Varco (NOV.N) dropped 5.6 percent to $27.48 after the oilfield equipment maker said it would cut its quarterly dividend.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,066 to 905. On the Nasdaq, 1,597 issues rose and 1,097 fell.
The S&P 500 index showed 20 new 52-week highs and three new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 34 new highs and 24 new lows.
(Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva)