Wall Street managed to edge higher ahead of the start of first quarter earnings season, which will provide further clues about how the US economy is travelling.

US investors were reluctant to make big share purchases ahead of the earnings news which some analysts are tipping to be fairly uninspiring.

Aluminium producer Alcoa kicked off the reporting news after the market's closing bell with a rise in quarterly profit.

The company made $US149 million in the three month period, up from $US94 million in the previous first quarter.

By the close of trade the Dow Jones Industrial Average had added 0.3 per cent, or 48 points, to 14,613.

The broader S&P 500 Index gained 0.6 per cent, or 10 points, to 1,563, and the Nasdaq composite added 0.6 per cent to 3,222.

Also in focus for investors was a speech from the US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, which was expected to provide insight into how much longer the central bank will keep its stimulus measures in place.

Across the Atlantic, the healthcare sector led London's FTSE 100 index 0.4 per cent higher to close at 6,277.

Markets in Germany and France gave up most of their gains late in the session to end flat - the DAX finished at 7,663.

The Australian market seems set for a positive start, with the SPI 200 futures contract up 18 points to 4,929.

On currency markets, the Japanese Yen continues to weaken against most major currencies as the Bank of Japan begins its aggressive stimulus plan.

At 8:00am (AEST), the Australian dollar was buying 103.37 Japanese yen - its highest level against the yen since 2008.

It was also up against the greenback, buying 104.09 US cents, 68.27 British pence and 80.07 euro cents.

Spot gold prices were down slightly to $US1,573.17 an ounce.

West Texas Intermediate crude oil was priced at $US93.63 cents a barrel.

 

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