Stocks ended mixed but the Dow moved closer to 13,000 after IBM announced a $15 billion stock buyback plan, as investors shrugged off disappointing data from the housing industry.
"With the liquidity out there and risk appetites increasing for investors ... you probably have to give upside the benefit of the doubt here," said Jeffrey Saut, chief investment strategist at Raymond James.
IBM was the best performing component in the Dow after the computer services company boosted its stock buyback program by $15 billion and raised its quarterly dividend by 10 cents.
The major averages rebounded after opening lower due to poor housing numbers, which showed the largest monthly drop in 18 years for existing home sales.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit an intraday high of 12,989 and is less than 50 points away from surpassing the unprecedented 13,000 level, six months after breaching 12,000. The Nasdaq Composite closed with a tiny gain but the Nasdaq-100 outpaced the broader average, rising 0.50%. The S&P 500 surrendered gains at the close, falling slightly.
The blue chip index has closed 16 of the last 18 sessions higher, gaining on an influx of strong quarterly earnings. Stocks saw early pressure on news that existing-home sales fell 8.4% in March, the largest drop since January 1989 and well short of analysts' forecast of 4%.
"It's hard to put lipstick on the numbers that came out today," said Mike Larson, senior real estate analyst for MoneyandMarkets.com. "Clearly, the weather had some impact but even if you exclude that these are very disappointing sales figures."
Four of 10 sectors in the S&P 500 traded higher, led by a 0.8% gain in the information technology sector. Tech stocks also saw additional strength following a strong earnings report announced by Texas Instruments on Monday after the close. Shares of the semiconductor company jumped on better than expected quarterly earnings and an increase in second-quarter guidance.
Utility stocks added to Monday's gains but energy stocks such as Exxon Mobil lagged due to a decline in crude oil prices. Breadth was slightly negative with decliners slightly exceeding gaining stocks on the NYSE.
"The housing data sent the market down in early trading, but I think overall the general theme of better-than-expected earnings results is the primary driver and that's why you're seeing some investor buying on weakness," said Mike Malone, trading analyst at Cowen and Company.
DuPont said Tuesday its first-quarter earnings and revenue climbed from the same quarter last year, thanks to strength in seed sales, and also reaffirmed its full-year profit forecast. Excluding charges of 5 cents a share for certain one-time items, per-share earnings at the company rose to $1.07, beating consensus estimates by four cents.
AT&T reported adjusted first-quarter earnings per share of 65 cents, better than the 61 cents forecast by analysts polled by Thomson Financial.
Lockheed Martin said first-quarter earnings and revenue climbed from the same quarter last year, thanks to strength in sales for its information systems for government customers. The nation's largest military contractor reported earnings of $1.60 a share, compared with analysts prediction of $1.37.
Toyota announced first-quarter global sales that beat those of General Motors for the first time ever. Toyota sold 2.348 million vehicles worldwide in the first three months of the year.
Apple Computer shares moved slightly lower after the company's former chief financial officer settled an options backdating case with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for $3.5 million.
Retail stocks came under pressure on Tuesday after Target said it expects monthly sales to decline more than previously expected.
New York light sweet crude futures fell below $65 a barrel, down 2%, as presidential elections in OPEC member country Nigeria continued to contribute to near-term volatility.
European Stocks End Lower, Asia Mixed
European stocks finished lower Tuesday, following a mixed Asian session, as earnings and merger and acquisitions remained key drivers for market momentum.
The London FTSE-100, Paris CAC-40 and Frankfurt DAX all closed lower.
The takeover battle for Alliance Boots took a step forward Tuesday with the consortium led by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts raising its offer to 1,139 pence a share, valuing the company at more than $22 billion, topping a rival bid from Terra Firma.
Integrated oil giant BP posted a first-quarter net profit decline of 17%, compared with the same period in 2006, missing forecasts slightly.
Tokyo's Nikkei 225 Average closed flat as shares of Kao declined after the maker of household products cut full-year earnings guidance.
South Korea's Kospi Index moved higher despite declines for lenders such as Kookmin Bank, which extended a recent drop ahead of an earnings report.
Chinese stocks rose modestly as the Shanghai Composite Index continued to recover from a recent 4.5% sell-off, while the Hang Seng ended flat in Hong Kong.