NEW YORK - Insurance and technology shares led the market higher in a volatile day Wednesday, breaking a two-day slide. But a dim view of the economy from the Federal Reserve and jitters over looming earnings reports kept buyers in check.

The Dow Jones industrials rose 47.55, or 0.6 percent, to 7,837.11.

Stocks got an early lift from a deal combining two major homebuilders and a report saying the government was poised to extend aid to battered life insurance companies, then wavered throughout the day before ending slightly higher.

The Dow had fallen 3 percent over Monday and Tuesday, which analysts saw as a necessary breather following a powerful rally in March that gave the Dow its biggest four-week surge since 1933.

Market-watchers say the rally could still continue, but only if corporate earnings reports just now starting to roll out provide encouraging forecasts about where the economy is going -- something that's far from certain.

"We're braced for a lousy earnings season because we haven't had a lot of guidance," said Frederic H. Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co. in Lake Oswego, Ore., referring to companies' opaque forecasts to start the year. "We're in a volatile bottoming process."

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 9.61, or 1.2 percent, to 825.16, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 29.05, or 1.9 percent, to 1,590.66.

Traders jumped on some glimmers of hope that emerged from the homebuilding, tech and insurance industries.

A $1.3 billion deal between Pulte Homes Inc. and rival Centex Corp. will create the nation's largest homebuilder. Centex jumped 18.9 percent, while Pulte fell 10.5 percent.

Insurers jumped following a report in the Wall Street Journal that the government may soon provide rescue funds to the ailing life insurance industry. An announcement could come within the next few days, the Journal said. Life insurers have been hit hard by investment losses this past year.

MetLife Inc. rose 2.4 percent, Prudential Financial Corp. gained 7.7 percent and Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. added 13.5 percent.