A batch of strong results from leading US companies including Ford Motor, UPS and 3M helped push the S&P 500 index to its highest level since June 2008 in a sign of rising market confidence in spite of concerns about the world economy.

Ford, the second-largest US car company by revenues, reported its highest quarterly profit for the period in 13 years, in the latest sign of the revival in US manufacturing.

UPS, the logistics company, and 3M, the diversified manufacturer, raised their guidance for full-year earnings after first-quarter profits beat analysts’ expectations. Lockheed Martin, the defence contractor, also raised its full-year projection.

The news follows excellent results from industrial companies such as United Technologies, Eaton and Honeywell.

Of the 154 constituents of the S&P 500 that have reported earnings for the first quarter, 122 have delivered earnings ahead of average expectations, according to Bloomberg data.

The S&P 500 index was 0.9 per cent up at 1347 by midday in New York and up 7.1 per cent this year. The rally this year has been led by the energy sector, which has risen 16 per cent, followed by the industrial sector and healthcare, which are both up 10 per cent.

The benchmark has nearly doubled from its low of 676 set in March 2009, during the financial crisis, but is still 14 per cent below its all-time high of 1,565.15 reached in October 2007.

Ford’s first-quarter earnings were $2.55bn, up 22 per cent on a year earlier and far ahead of analysts’ estimates. The company ascribed the rise to higher volumes and selling prices, as well as lower interest payments. Operating profits in Europe almost trebled, helped by new models.

However, Alan Mulally, chief executive, said that despite the strong first quarter, Ford was sticking to earlier 2011 sales projections due to uncertainties.

The company warned that results later in the year “may not be as strong as the first quarter”. It cited lower profits at Ford Credit, its financing arm, rising commodity prices and expanding investments, especially in emerging markets such as Russia, which Ford expects will be Europe’s biggest car market by 2015.

Mr Mulally added however, that while new investments would push up costs, “they are also driving higher volumes, richer mix [of vehicles] and stronger transaction prices”.

UPS also raised concerns about risks in the world economy, saying that the outlook was “a little cloudier” than it was three months ago.

Ford shares climbed 2 per cent to about $15.90 at midday in New York, far above their lows of close to a dollar in late 2008, but still below January’s recent peak of almost $19.

3M shares were also up about 2 per cent at $96.14, while UPS and Lockheed were both up about 1 per cent.

Additional reporting by Michael MacKenzie in New York

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