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Stocks gain on reports of solid quarterly earnings

The floor of the New York Stock Exchange

The floor of the New York Stock Exchange at the closing bell on Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014 on Wall Street. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Theodorakis

Solid quarterly results from a range of big companies helped send the stock market higher Thursday. The standout was Visa, whose 10 percent jump helped tug the Dow Jones industrial average up nearly 200 points.

At the close on Wall Street, the Dow was up 221.11 points, or 1.3 percent, to 17,195.42. The Standard & Poor's 500 index had gained 12.35 points, or nearly 0.62 percent, to 1,994.65, and the Nasdaq composite had added 16.91 points, or 0.37 percent, to 4,566.14.

Visa, the world's largest payment-processing company, turned in quarterly earnings late Wednesday that topped Wall Street's forecasts and announced plans to spend as much as $5 billion on buying its own shares. Visa's stock gained $21.99 to $236.65.

For investors, there was plenty of encouraging news. Before the market opened, the government said that the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the three months ending in September, powered by more business investment, sales abroad and the biggest jump in military spending in five years.

"It's another report that indicates the economy can stand on its own two feet," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital Management, referring to the government's estimate of economic growth.

Unlike other market measures, the Dow weighs its roster of 30 large corporations by their stock prices rather than by their market size. That means companies with the most expensive stocks, such as Visa and Goldman Sachs, have more power to drive the average up or down.

The world's second-largest card-payment company, MasterCard, said its third-quarter profit surged as Americans appeared less hesitant to use their debit and credit cards. The results beat Wall Street's expectations, propelling MasterCard's stock up $7.14, or 9 percent, to $83.13.

Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ, saw a number of optimistic signs for the market. Reports that Visa and MasterCard are handling more transactions could mean that Americans will be more likely to open their wallets during the holiday shopping season. What's more, the market is approaching a stretch that nearly always rewards investors.

"We're entering the best six months of the year, November through April," Stovall said. Since World War II, the market has climbed 94 percent of the time, for an average gain of 15 percent.

Rising corporate earnings have helped turn the market higher in recent weeks. More than half of the S&P 500's members have released their third-quarter results, and roughly seven out of 10 have beaten Wall Street's targets, according to S&P Capital IQ. Third-quarter earnings are now on track to increase nearly 7 percent, with health care companies reporting the largest profit gains.

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