Strong earnings news and favorable economic reports both in the U.S. and in Europe paved the way for stock market gains on Thursday. Just before 3 p.m. EST, the Nasdaq Composite (INDEX: ^IXIC) was up 14 points to 2,784, outperforming both the Dow and the S&P 500 for the third straight day.

Among the big movers in the Nasdaq was F5 Networks (Nasdaq: FFIV), which soared 12% in afternoon trading. The company beat earnings estimates for its fiscal first quarter by $0.02, posting a 20% gain in sales and watching net income jump 19% versus the year-ago quarter. More important, the company also boosted its forecasts for the current quarter to levels above current analyst expectations.

eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) also rose sharply, gaining 3.5% just before 3 p.m. EST. Revenue and earnings for the fourth quarter beat expectations, with sales jumping 35% and net income coming in $0.03 per share ahead of analyst estimates. Strong e-commerce spending and big growth at its PayPal payments division accounted for much of eBay's strength.

Sears Holdings (Nasdaq: SHLD) jumped for the third day in a row, rising about 7%. The AP cited a source saying that the retailer's vendors had become eligible for financing from CIT Group in an apparent reversal from last week, when several published reports said that CIT had stopped financing loans to vendors waiting for Sears to pay them. The companies haven't commented on today's report.

Falling sharply was First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR), which was off 9% in afternoon trading. Germany said that it would make cuts in subsidies on a monthly basis rather than semiannually. With the nation having more than doubled its target of installed solar panels in 2011, the news threatens growth in the solar industry in Europe, which has been a key element for First Solar and other solar players.

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