By Lewis Krauskopf

(Reuters) - Wall Street gained on Wednesday and the S&P 500 and Dow industrials set fresh records, as Microsoft's strong results boosted the indexes and marked the latest sign that U.S. corporate earnings season may be less dour than feared.

Microsoft <MSFT.O> shares surged 5.3 percent after the software giant posted sharp growth in its cloud computing business.

The stock gave by far the biggest lift to the major indexes and the tech sector <.SPLRCT>.

Defensive sectors such as utilities and telecoms have led the market's gains in 2016, while groups such as financials and tech have trailed.

"It seems like the weaker parts of the market are starting to at least try and keep pace with the stronger parts and there really hasn’t been a big selloff in the big winners to this point," said Rick Meckler, president of LibertyView Capital Management in Jersey City, New Jersey.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 36.02 points, or 0.19 percent, to 18,595.03, for its ninth straight session of gains, its longest such streak since March 2013.

The S&P 500 <.SPX> gained 9.24 points, or 0.43 percent, to 2,173.02 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 53.56 points, or 1.06 percent, to 5,089.93.

Tech led, and six of the 10 major S&P sectors closed higher, with utilities <.SPLRCU> and consumer staples <.SPLRCS> the biggest laggards.

The recent record-setting rally, which has pushed the S&P 500 up more than 6 percent this year, has come despite concerns about global instability including Britain's recent vote to leave the European Union.

"People are saying they don’t want to invest in Europe, they don’t want to invest in Latin America, they don’t want to invest in Asia," said Jake Dollarhide, chief executive officer of Longbow Asset Management in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "By default, the U.S. markets are getting a lot of foreign capital."

Second-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies, which began reporting in earnest this week, are now expected to fall by 3.8 percent, less than the 4.5 percent decline estimated earlier in the week, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

"The market has been rallying on the expectation of good earnings with some companies even providing decent forecasts," said Thomas Wilson, managing director of wealth advisory at Brinker Capital.

In other quarterly reports, Morgan Stanley <MS.N> closed up 2.2 percent after its profit topped analysts' estimates, rounding off upbeat results from the six biggest Wall Street banks.

Abbott Laboratories <ABT.N> reported better-than-expected quarterly sales and profit, sending its shares up 2 percent.

After the market closed, Intel <INTC.O> shares slipped 3 percent following release of its results.

About 6.2 billion shares changed hands in U.S. exchanges, below the 7.5 billion daily average over the past 20 sessions.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.11-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.19-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 46 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 107 new highs and 18 new lows.

(Additional reporting by Tanya Agrawal and Anya George Tharakan; Editing by Savio D'Souza and Nick Zieminski)