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At the open: Wall St rises after jobs data

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, July 31, 2012.

BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS

U.S. stocks opened higher on Wednesday after data on the labor market came in above expectations and ahead of the Federal Reserve's statement on the economy and the possibility of a new round of stimulus.

The Federal Reserve is likely to show it is ready to act to support a weakening U.S. economy but stop short of aggressive measures for now.

The Fed statement comes a day before a key meeting of the European Central Bank, after its president, Mario Draghi, heightened speculation of further ECB purchases of Italian and Spanish bonds by saying that he would do "whatever it takes to preserve the euro."

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"We have the Fed today, the ECB tomorrow and everybody is waiting on central bank policy – right now the equity markets are being held together by easy money and if we don't get more of it soon we are likely to be disappointed," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer, Harris Private Bank in Chicago.

"We are going to need a monetary booster shot both from Europe and the U.S. to keep this party going."

The S&P 500 posted its biggest two-day percentage gain of the year t o close out last week on increased expectations both the Fed and the European Central Bank will plan further actions to stimulate their respective economies at the meetings this week. However, the index has stalled over the prior two sessions as it reached levels not seen since early May.

Data from payrolls processor Automatic Data Processing showed private employers added 163,000 jobs in July, topping economists' expectations for 120,000 new jobs. Investors may use the report to glean clues on the health of the labor market ahead of Friday's non-farm payrolls report.

At 10 a.m., the Commerce Department releases June construction spending and the Institute for Supply Management releases its July manufacturing index. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast construction spending to rise 0.4 per cent and a 50.2 ISM reading.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 50.02 points, or 0.38 per cent, to 13,058.70. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 3.47 points, or 0.25 per cent, to 1,382.79. The Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 10.06 points, or 0.34 per cent, to 2,949.58.

Mastercard shares dipped 3.1 per cent to $422.83 as one of the biggest drags on the S&P 500 after the world's second-largest credit and debit card processing network's quarterly revenue missed Wall Street estimates as worldwide purchase volume growth slowed to its lowest level in five quarters.

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Phillips 66 climbed 3.2 per cent to $38.79 after the largest U.S. independent refining company, posted a 14 per cent jump in quarterly profit on stronger refining margins and chemical sales.

Harley-Davidson Inc lost 4.7 per cent to $41.21 even after the company reported a better-than-expected 29.7 per cent rise in quarterly profit, as its success in attracting young motorcycle buyers helped push sales higher.

Other major companies announcing results include Metlife , Prudential Financial Inc and Tesoro Corp .

According to Thomson Reuters data through Tuesday morning, of the 321 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported second-quarter earnings to date, 67.3 per cent have reported earnings above analysts' expectations. Over the past four quarters, the average beat rate is 68 per cent.

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