North American markets were higher as U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke told U.S. lawmakers that it’s too soon for the Fed to end its extraordinary stimulus programs.In testimony to the Joint Economic Committee, Bernanke said the U.S. economy is expected to grow moderately this year and unemployment has fallen to a four-year low of 7.5 per cent.But Bernanke added that reducing the Fed’s efforts to keep borrowing rates low would “carry a substantial risk of slowing or ending the economic recovery.”The U.S. central bank was also scheduled to release minutes from its latest monetary policy meeting later Wednesday.The S&P/TSX composite index jumped 70.32 points to 12,812.75.On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrials index was ahead by 48.76 points to 15,436.34, the S&P 500 climbed 5.88 points to 1,675.04, while the Nasdaq was up 11.52 of a point to 3,513.64.The Canadian dollar was down 0.48 of a cent to 96.91 cents US.Investors had been worried that the Fed could begin pulling back its monetary stimulus since recent data showed that outlooks for housing and jobs in the U.S. were rosier than expected.The Fed’s $85-billion-a-month bond-buying stimulus program, also known as quantitative easing, has boosted liquidity in financial markets over the past few years.It’s been replicated in some other countries, although not in Canada, and has resulted in stock indexes flying upwards despite a patchy recovery from recession in many parts of the world.Over the past few weeks, a number of the world’s main markets, such as the Dow Jones and Germany’s DAX have recorded a series of all-time highs, while others such as Japan’s Nikkei and Britain’s FTSE 100 have hit multi-year highs.Meanwhile, Statistics Canada reported that retail sales were flat in March, holding at $39.5 billion. After removing the effects of price changes, particularly lower gasoline prices, retail sales in volume terms rose 0.7 per cent.The largest increase in sales was a 3.1 per cent rise at clothing and clothing accessories stores, while sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers rose 0.7 per cent for a third consecutive monthly gain.On the commodities front, June gold bullion surged ahead $14.80 to US$1,392.40 an ounce. The July crude contract was down 81 cents to US$95.37 a barrel and July copper climbed six cents to US$3.40 a poundIn corporate news, shares in Sears Canada Inc. (TSX:SCC) fell 0.53 per cent, or five cents, to $9.30 after the national retailer reported a $31.2-million loss as well as lower revenue in its latest quarter. The loss amounted to 31 cents per share and contrasted with a year-earlier profit of $93.1 million or 91 cents per share, when its bottom line was boosted by an unusual gain. Sears says same-store sales fell by 2.6 per cent while total revenue fell to US$867.1 million from US$928.0 million a year earlier.Target Corp. also reported a 26 per cent drop in first-quarter profits as cool temperatures and financial pressures limited customers’ appetite for spending. The company, based in Minneapolis, also cut its annual profit outlook.Target says it earned US$498 million, or 77 cents per share, for the three months ended May 4. That compares with US$697 million, or $1.04 per share, a year earlier. Sales rose 1 per cent to US$16.71 billion. Analysts had expected earnings of 95 cents per share on revenue of US$16.82 billion. Its shares were down 3.45 per cent, or $2.45, at US$68.81.Meanwhile, Lowe’s Cos. said its first-quarter net income rose nearly 3 per cent, but results fell short of expectations as rainy weather hurt spring gardening sales.The No. 2 home improvement retailer’s said it earned US$540 million, or 49 cents per share. That compares with US$527 million, or 43 cents per share, a year ago. Analysts polled by FactSet expected higher earnings of 51 cents per share for the world’s second-biggest home improvement retailer.Revenue for the Mooresville, N.C., company dipped to $13.09 billion from US$13.15 billion. Wall Street expected a rise to $13.45 billion. Its shares climbed 2.5 per cent, or $1.05 to US$43.50.Overseas, the FTSE 100 was down 0.2 per cent at 6,790 while the DAX fell 0.3 per cent to 8,443. The CAC-40 in France was 0.6 per cent lower at 4,011.Earlier in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index up 1.6 per cent at 15,627.26, its highest close in more than five years. The Bank of Japan concluded a two-day policy meeting without any changes to its aggressive monetary easing stance, as expected, and said the world’s third-largest economy is showing signs of picking up.