NEW YORK (AP) — Stronger earnings reports from Ford and 3M helped drive stocks higher Tuesday. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was headed for its highest close since the financial crisis.

Ford Motor Co. rose two percent after the carmaker reported its best first quarter earnings since 1998. Ford beat Wall Street’s earnings estimates with stronger sales of new vehicles.

3M Co. also rose two percent. The maker of Post-Its and Scotch Tape said quarterly profit jumped 16 percent from a year ago, beating analysts’ estimates. 3M raised its full-year earnings expectations despite taking a hit from the earthquake in Japan.

Delta Air Lines Inc. said rising fuel prices played a large role in pushing its quarterly loss to 38 cents a share. Analysts expected worse. Delta jumped 8.7 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 116 points, or one percent, to 12,596 in early afternoon trading. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 13 points, or 0.9 percent, to 1,348.

If the S&P 500 closes above 1,343, it will set a new high for the year and reach its highest level since bottoming out at a 12-year low in March 2009.

The Nasdaq composite rose 25 points, or 0.9 percent, to 2,850.

Stocks also got a lift from a report on consumer confidence. The Conference Board said its confidence index rose in April after falling in March. The index is based on the board’s survey, which showed that worries about rising prices and unemployment eased.

Among the encouraging signs, those who said jobs are “hard to get” dropped, while those who expected higher incomes rose.

The market’s continued rebound is crucial to luring nervous Americans back into investing in stocks, said Alan Gayle, senior investment strategist at RidgeWorth Investments in Richmond, Va.

Gayle said he talks to a lot of retail investors who were burned when markets dropped in 2000 and 2008 and remain wary of putting their savings into stocks.

“The stock market in the last 10 years has disappointed a lot of investors,” Gayle said. “There are some lasting scars there.”

United Parcel Service Inc. rose 1.1 percent. UPS raised its earnings estimate for the year after its quarterly results jumped 66 percent, beating analysts’ estimates.

The Federal Reserve begins a two-day meeting on Tuesday.

Economists expect the Fed will leave short-term interest rates unchanged and end its $600 billion bond-buying program in June as scheduled. The bond-buying effort has been credited with lifting financial markets since Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke first hinted at it last August.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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