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The close: S&P 500 clears 1200 Add to ...

North American stocks took an impressive step higher on Wednesday, putting U.S. indexes above key thresholds that had looked evasive just a week ago.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed at 11,123.11, up 103.69 points, or 0.9 per cent. The broader S&P 500 closed at 1210.65, up 13.35 points, or 1.1 per cent - its biggest one-day gain in more than a month. It also marked the index's first close above 1200 since September, 2008.

In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index closed at 12,204.41, up 102.89 points, or 0.9 per cent.

Wednesday's economic reports on U.S. retail sales and consumer prices helped build the impression that consumer spending was turning around amid low inflation.

But enthusiasm over the start of the first quarter earnings season is what really got the market going. Intel Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. blew past expectations with their quarterly reports, easing concerns heading into the earnings season that analysts were being overly optimistic and building confidence that the economic recovery is building.

Intel shares rose 3.3 per cent after chip maker reported strong earnings after markets closed on Tuesday.

Similarly, JPMorgan shares rose 4.1 per cent and lifted other financials on the premise that Wall Street is making an impressive comeback: Bank of America Corp., which reports its quarterly results on Friday, rose 3.9 per cent and Citigroup Inc. rose 6.7 per cent, driving the S&P 500 financials subindex to its biggest one-day gain since the end of November.

In Canada, financials also led the way, piggy-backing on U.S. gains. Among the Big Banks, Toronto-Dominion Bank rose 2.7 per cent and Bank of Montreal rose 2.6 per cent.

Even though the price of crude oil rose to $85.84 (U.S.) a barrel, up $1.79, energy stocks were mixed, rising just 0.3 per cent as a group. Suncor Energy Inc. rose 0.8 per cent but Canadian Oil Sands Trust fell 0.9 per cent.

Meanwhile, fertilizer stocks were weak after analysts at Goldman Sachs downgraded their recommendation on Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. to "neutral" from "buy", after doubting the commodity's price increases. Potash Corp. fell 2.4 per cent and Agrium Inc. fell 4.3 per cent.

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