On the earnings front, Coca-Cola rose after the beverage giant reported higher-than-expected quarterly sales, thanks to its third straight quarter of sales growth in North America.
Shares of fellow Dow component Disney jumped almost 5 percent after the media conglomerate posted a profit that beat forecasts, aided by a hefty rise in advertising sales at its ESPN cable sports channels and a strong showing from its parks and resorts division. In addition, at least three brokerages raised their price targets on the firm.
Polo Ralph Lauren soared almost 8 percent after the retailer posted a bigger-than-expected jump in quarterly profit on strong clothing sales over the holiday season and said its momentum should continue in the current quarter.
And Sanofi-Aventis said hefty new restructuring costs caused its net profit to slump 64 percent, amid continued uncertainty over the fate of its nearly $20 billion bid for U.S. biotechnology firm Genzyme.
Meanwhile, Syngenta advanced after the world's biggest maker of agricultural chemicals posted a forecast-beating set of 2010 figures. The company is set to benefit from soaring food prices as farmers invest in products to boost harvests and buy more weed and bug killers.
Cisco , Activision Blizzard and MetLife are among firm that will be reporting after-the-bell tonight.
Shares of NYSE Euronext soared almost 15 percent after the firm confirmed advanced merger talkswith Deutsche Boerse. The shares were initially halted. The news came on a day that London Stock Exchangeand Toronto Stock Exchange parent TMX Groupsaid they agreed to a blockbuster trans-Atlantic merger.
Shares of rivals Nasdaq OMX, IntercontinentalExchange, CBOE and CME were also higher amid the speculation.
On the tech front, Apple climbed after the Wall Street Journal reported that the tech giant has begun to make a new version of its iPad tablet computer with a front-facing camera and faster processor.
Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard shares rose after the IT firm unveiled its version of the tablet—the HP TouchPad—to compete with Apple's iPad.
Oil briefly extended gains to trade above $87 a barrelin choppy trading after a government oil inventory report showed crude stocks rose last week, though less than expected. Gold prices traded above $1,365 an ounce.
Energy giants including Chevron , ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips were trading to the downside.
Shares of 3M rose after the diversified manufacturer raised its dividend and announced a $7 billion share repurchase program.
Meanwhile, AIG said it will take a fourth-quarter charge of $4.1 billionfor raising loss reserves at global property insurer Chartis. On Tuesday, the insurer opted to delay its "re-IPO" until late April or May, according to sources.
Wells Fargo shares declined more than 3 percent after the banking giant said CFO Howard Atkins will retireand will be replaced by the bank's administrative chief.
Shares of St. Joe dropped after the Florida real estate company, is considering a sale among other options. The firm said it was being advised by Morgan Stanley.
Treasury prices ralliedafter the government is scheduled to auction $24 billion in 10-year notes at 1pm ET, which had a high yield of 3.665 percent, and a strong bid-to-cover of 3.23. The Treasury is expected to auction 30-year bonds tomorrow.
In the morning's economic news, applications for U.S. home mortgages dropped last weekas the highest interest rates in 10 months sapped demand for home loan refinancing, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The group said its index of mortgage application activity, which includes both refinancing and home purchase demand, fell 5.5 percent in the week ended Feb. 4.
Overseas, European shares fell, further retreating from 29-month highs hit earlier this week, weighed down by miners.
Coming Up This Week:
WEDNESDAY: Earnings from Cisco, Activision Blizzard, MetLife, Prudential and WholeFoods.
THURSDAY: BoE announcement, jobless claims, wholesale trade, Atlanta Fed speaks, 30-year Treasury bond auction, Treasury budget, Ebay investor day, Verizon iPhone goes on sale; before-the-bell earnings from PepsiCo, Philip Morris and Sprint; after-the-bell earnings from Kraft and Expedia.
FRIDAY: International trade, consumer sentiment, Nokia analyst day; earnings from Discovery Communications.
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