By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, April 23 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose on Thursday, with the Nasdaq index hitting a record closing high, as corporate earnings and a rise in energy shares overshadowed soft U.S. economic data, while oil prices climbed to the highest levels of the year.
The gains pushed the Nasdaq above a record set in March 2000, the height of the dot-com boom. The index is up 353 percent from its October 2002 low after the technology bubble burst.
"It has the potential to go up, absent some external event that I can't predict." said Walter Price, senior portfolio manager and managing director of the AllianzGI Global Technology fund in San Francisco. "Companies look as though they ought to power through this environment."
In 2000, "a lot of the high-growth companies were selling at 200 or 300 times next year's earnings," he added. "This is nothing like that. This is a whole different world versus 2000."
A rise in oil prices helped lift energy shares 0.6 percent. Strong earnings from AT&T, up 4.2 percent to $34.23, and eBay, up 3.8 percent to $58.89, helped offset lackluster U.S. economic data.
Brent crude touched a high of $65.58, its highest since December, and settled up 3.4 percent at $64.85 a barrel. U.S. crude settled up 2.8 percent at $57.74 after Saudi Arabia and its allies continued a bombing blitz in Yemen that raised concerns about the security of Middle East oil supplies.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 20.42 points, or 0.11 percent, to 18,058.69, the S&P 500 gained 4.97 points, or 0.24 percent, to 2,112.93 and the Nasdaq Composite added 20.89 points, or 0.41 percent, to 5,056.06.
European shares slipped, with Germany's DAX index underperforming following a disappointing purchasing managers' survey, while weak results from Ericsson hit technology stocks.
Overall, euro zone private-sector business growth was weaker than forecast, despite help for exporters from a big fall in the euro and the March launch of a sovereign bond-buying program by the European Central Bank.
MSCI's all-country world index of equity performance in 46 countries advanced 0.42 percent, while the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares closed down 0.46 percent at 1,620.82. Germany's DAX dropped 1.2 percent.
U.S. Treasuries yields were little changed, hovering near 3-1/2 week highs after a broad sell-off in Treasuries, German Bunds and British Gilts on Wednesday.
Benchmark 10-year notes were last up 6/32 in price to yield 1.9524 percent.
The dollar weakened 0.7 percent against a basket of major currencies in light of the soft U.S. data and waning fears of a Greek default.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to tell Greece's prime minister in a meeting on Thursday that she wants to keep Greece in the euro zone and avoid a default, but will need commitments in technical talks on measures to make Greece's public finances sustainable.
(Additional reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Meredith Mazzilli and Dan Grebler)