US STOCKS-Earnings hope lifts stocks, S&P above key resistance

  * Quarter-end window dressing boosts market
  * Earnings optimism stays; Micron lifts semis
  * S&P breaks above 50-day moving average
  * Dow up 0.7 pct, S&P up 0.9 pct, Nasdaq up 1.4 pct
 * For up-to-the-minute market news see [STXNEWS/US]
 (Adds Oracle, Research in Motion earnings after the bell)
 By Chuck Mikolajczak
 NEW YORK, March 24 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks advanced on
Thursday as optimism about upcoming earnings and investor
buying of the quarter's top performers lifted the S&P 500
above a key technical level.
 The S&P 500 broke above its 50-day moving average at
1,305, leading investors to believe the market may have
absorbed the worst of its recent pullback caused by Japan's
earthquake and tumult in the Arab world, positioning stocks
for another move higher.
 "Yes, there are legitimate concerns. Yes, there are
legitimate headline risks," said Phil Orlando, chief equity
market strategist at Federated Investors, in New York.
 "But it's entirely possible the market feels comfortable
that this 7 percent correction we saw from mid-February into
mid-March has priced those concerns in, and now we are
starting to look forward to the prospect of continued economic
growth and solid first-quarter profits."
 The S&P 500 is up 24.8 percent since the start of
September but briefly dipped into negative territory for the
year recently as global concerns pushed commodity prices
higher.
 The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI: Quote, Profile, Research) gained 84.54
points, or 0.70 percent, to end at 12,170.56. The Standard &
Poor's 500 Index (.SPX: Quote, Profile, Research) climbed 12.12 points, or 0.93 percent,
to 1,309.66. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC: Quote, Profile, Research) rose 38.12
points, or 1.41 percent, to 2,736.42.
 Ken Polcari, managing director at ICAP Equities in New
York, said the S&P's 50-day moving average has acted as a
point of resistance for the last week and a half, and a close
above 1,305 will be bullish in the short-term.
 SEMIS' STAR TURN
 Semiconductor stocks were among the best performers and
helped boost the Nasdaq after Micron Technology Inc (MU.O: Quote, Profile, Research)
posted a quarterly profit that topped Wall Street's forecasts.
For details, see [ID:nN23250181]
 Micron shares jumped 8.4 percent to $11.50. The PHLX
semiconductor index (.SOX: Quote, Profile, Research) gained 2.5 percent.
 It was the second consecutive day of gains for the market,
with the S&P 500 up 2.4 percent so far for the week.
 With the market near the end of the quarter, portfolio
managers will buy equities that have performed well as they
execute window dressing, and hedge funds will cover short
positions that are under pressure.
 The S&P energy index (.GSPE: Quote, Profile, Research) is among leading sectors for
the quarter, with gains so far of 13.7 percent. Tesoro Corp
(TSO.N: Quote, Profile, Research) was the top performer in the sector for the quarter,
up 40.4 percent.
 The S&P technology index (.GSPT: Quote, Profile, Research), up 3.1 percent so far
for the quarter, was up 1.6 percent on Thursday. The rally on
Thursday pushed Micron Tech up more than 43 percent for the
quarter, making it the sector's top gainer.
 "Maybe there are some clients that are taking the
opportunity to put some cash to work and put it to work in
some areas like technology that have been leadership groups,"
Orlando said.
 After the closing bell, Oracle Corp (ORCL.O: Quote, Profile, Research) gained 0.4
percent to $32.27 after posting quarterly results that beat
Wall Street's estimates, while U.S.-listed shares of Research
in Motion Inc (RIM.TO: Quote, Profile, Research)(RIMM.O: Quote, Profile, Research)  tumbled over 10 percent to
$57.40 after giving a weaker-than-expected outlook.
[ID:nN24301684] and [ID:nN24175647]
 Earnings growth is expected to help the market overcome
worries about unrest in the Middle East and North Africa and
Japan's crisis this year.
 The S&P 500 was forecast to end the year 11 percent
higher, according to a Reuters poll released on Thursday.
<^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
 The S&P 500 will finish the year with double-digit gains,
a Reuters poll found. For details, see [ID:nN22164148]
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>
 Volume was light, with about 7.21 billion shares traded on
the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and
Nasdaq, below the daily average of 8.06 billion.
 Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by
1,947 to 1,013, while on the Nasdaq, advancers beat decliners
1,674 to 926.
 (Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)







US STOCKS-Earnings hope lifts stocks, S&P above key resistance