The broad S&P 500 Index closed at a 29-month high, led by gains in commodity and tech shares, as investors largely ignored the Fed's latest assessment of the U.S. economy. The Fed's outlook after a two-day meeting of policymakers came on the heels of a government report that showed new-home sales rose to an eight-month high in December, just the latest data to signal a pick-up in economic activity.
"The market is not willing to buy into the Fed's vision," said Jim Vogel, interest rate strategist at FTN Financial in Memphis.
Strong corporate earnings continue to support further gains in equity markets, while commodities rebounded from sharp losses the previous session on optimism about demand and supply snags.
MSCI's all-country world stock index (.MIWD00000PUS) rose 0.6 percent.
The Reuters Jefferies CRB index (.CRB), one of the broadest measures of commodity prices, settled up 1.6 percent for its strongest gain since December 31.
"By expressing disappointment about the employment situation, the Federal Reserve is signaling that it will continue to inject liquidity into the economy," said Mohamed El-Erian, co-chief investment officer at Pacific Investment Management Co. in Newport Beach, California.
"Only part of this liquidity will be absorbed by the U.S. economy. The rest will leak elsewhere, resulting in large capital flows to emerging economies and pressure on commodity prices," he said.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) closed up 8.25 points, or 0.07 percent, at 11,985.44. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (.SPX) gained 5.45 points, or 0.42 percent, at 1,296.63. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC) rose 20.25 points, or 0.74 percent, at 2,739.50.
The Dow rose above the 12,000 level intraday for the first time since June 2008 before it pared those gains to close just above break-even.
Stocks in Tokyo were poised to open flat, with the March futures contract that trades in Chicago for the Nikkei 225 at 10,455, or break-even.
Obama's annual State of the Union speech late Tuesday helped bolster sentiment as the president signaled corporate tax cuts, a retooling of the tax code and an end to pet spending projects coveted by many lawmakers.
Investors also ignored a report from the Congressional Budget Office, which said the U.S. budget deficit in 2011 will jump nearly 40 percent over prior forecasts, mostly due to the mammoth tax-cut package brokered by Obama and lawmakers in December.
Data that showed new U.S. single-family home sales surged to their highest level in eight months in December while prices were the highest since April 2008 also bolstered sentiment and raised cautious optimism for a housing market recovery.
A weaker-than-expected outlook from Boeing Co (BA.N) pulled its shares down 3.1 percent to $70.02 and weighed on the Dow.
The dollar pared gains against the yen immediately after the Fed statement, dropping to 82.20, but it rebounded to session highs as U.S. benchmark yields rose.
The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was down 23/32 in price to yield 3.42 percent.
The dollar was up 0.05 percent at 82.24 yen, while the euro was up 0.07 percent at $1.3698. The dollar was down against a basket of major currencies, with the U.S. Dollar Index (.DXY) off 0.29 percent at 77.779.
U.S. crude for March delivery settled $1.14 higher, or 1.32 percent, at $87.33 a barrel, rebounding after six straights days of losses on rising inventories as well as worries about global economic recovery. In London, the March contract for Brent crude settled up $2.66 at $97.91 a barrel.
Brent's premium against U.S. benchmark crude soared to a 24-month high of more than $10, the widest since January 2009. U.S. gold futures for February delivery settled up 70 cents at $1,333 an ounce prior to the Fed's announcement.
(Reporting by Angela Moon, Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss, Frank Tang and Richard Leong in New York; Alex Lawler, Emma Farge, Atul Prakash, Jan Harvey, Pratima Desai and Nia Williams in London; Writing by Herbert Lash; Editing by Kenneth Barry)