Financials rallied 2.25 percent to lead S&P advancers, with the SPDR S&P Bank ETF (KBE) jumping 3.74 percent for its fourth-straight day of gains. Financials are the best S&P performer week-to-date but the worst for the year so far, off 3.9 percent.
Goldman Sachs, Caterpillar and JPMorgan Chase were the top contributors to gains in the Dow. JPMorgan traded more than 4 percent higher after reporting first-quarter earnings that beat on both the top and bottom line. However, quarterly profit fell for the first time in five quarters and revenue from investment banking dropped 24.5 percent, Reuters said.
The Nasdaq composite outperformed, rising 1.55 percent with Apple and Amazon.com leading major tech stocks higher and the iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB) gaining 1.91 percent.
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"Basically the primary reason for the nice extended rally this morning is the China news. We saw exports come up ... and it might be a good sign that China might be turning a corner," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial.
Asian stocks jumped, with the Nikkei 225 up 2.8 percent. The Hang Seng surged nearly 3.2 percent and the Shanghai composite gained 1.4 percent.
In the first increase since June, China dollar-denominated exports rose 11.5 percent in March from the same period last year, recovering from a 25.4 percent drop in February. Imports fell a less-than-expected 7.6 percent in dollar-denominated terms and volumes of most major commodities, notably copper and iron ore, rose strongly, Reuters said.
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Copper rose nearly 1 percent. U.S. crude oil futures for May delivery settled 0.97 percent higher, or 41 cents, at $41.76 a barrel.
Earlier, oil struggled for gains, briefly topping $42 a barrel to hit a fresh high for the year so far. Weekly crude oil inventories from the EIA showed a 6.6 million barrel build, while U.S. production fell below 9 million barrels a day for the first time since late 2014.
Representatives of producing nations are set to meet on Sunday in Doha, Qatar, to discuss an output freeze.
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Treasury yields came off highs, with the 2-year yield near 0.74 percent and the 10-year yield around 1.76 percent. Earlier, both yields hit their highest since April 1.
The Treasury auctioned $20 billion of 10-year notes at a high yield of 1.765 percent.
The U.S. dollar index was about 0.9 percent higher, with the euro near $1.128 and the yen at 109.28 yen against the greenback. Earlier, the euro hit its lowest against the dollar in two weeks.