Dow, S&P end at record highs on payrolls optimism

U.S. stocks climbed, lifting the Dow and S&P 500 to records, after upbeat economic reports in the U.S. and assurances from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi that the ECB would adopt further easing measures, if needed.

"After a rather adventurous period in the last few weeks filled with economic and corporate data, the markets are choosing to put a positive interpretation on the ECB and Draghi's statements," said Eric Wiegand, senior portfolio manager for the private client reserve of U.S. Bank in New York.

"As we look at the jobless claims that came out today, it's a nice backdrop for a favorable report tomorrow," Wiegand added of Friday's monthly payrolls report.

Thursday's economic reports had the government's tally of Americans filing for jobless benefits falling by 10,000 to 278,000 last week, better than the expected 285,000.

Another report had productivity rising more than estimated in the third quarter.

Tesla Motors gained after the electric-car maker forecast several years of substantial sales growth; Genworth Financial tanked after its CEO apologized for the financial-services company's earnings miss.

Read MoreMidday movers: Kate Spade, Apple, Hospira & more

Speaking at a news conference after the ECB held its key interest rate at record lows, as expected, Draghi "gave the markets exactly what they wanted to hear," noted Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at the Lindsey Group, of Draghi's assurances that ECB officials were unanimous in the view that they would take additional steps if warranted.

"Here we have a bit of safety net, solid economic fundamentals and favorable monetary policy, so it's not surprising the U.S. continues to be the best performing market," said Ronald Sanchez, chief investment officer at Fiduciary Trust Company.

"There is an equilibrium playing out with monetary policy and global fundamentals: if I get growth I'm good, If I don't, I'll get accommodative policy. In 2015, at some point, that equilibrium will be broken. Today it's an either or, in the next year or two, my focus is more on I need to see better global fundamentals," said Sanchez.

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Climbing to an intraday record, the Dow Jones Industrial Average also finished at a record, up 69.94 points, or 0.4 percent, at 17,554.47, with General Electric leading blue-chip gains.

Also hitting an all-time high, the S&P 500 rose 7.64 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,031.21, with energy faring best and utilities the weakest sector among its 10 major industry groups.

The Nasdaq gained 17.75 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,638.47.

For every seven shares falling, more than eight rose on on the New York Stock Exchange, where almost 752 million shares exchanged hands as of 3:55 p.m. Eastern. Composite volume neared 3.7 billion.

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Oct. 31, 2014.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Oct. 31, 2014.

The U.S. dollar gained against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners; the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, used in figuring mortgage rates and other consumer loans, added 3 basis points to 2.3778 percent.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude and gold futures fell, with the former down 77 cents at $77.91 a barrel and the latter off $3.10 at $1,142.60 an ounce.

On Wednesday, U.S. stocks mostly rose, taking benchmarks to historical peaks, a day after elections had Republicans taking control of the Senate and as a report on the jobs market came in better than anticipated.

Read More Dow, S&P 500 rise to record finishes; Nasdaq slides

—By CNBC's Kate Gibson

Coming Up This Week:

Thursday

7:05 p.m.:Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester

Friday

Earnings: Berkshire Hathaway, Allianz, Nippon Telegraph, ArcelorMittal, Humana

8:30 a.m.: Employment report

9:15 a.m.: Chicago Fed's Evans

10:15 a.m.: Fed Chair Janet Yellen on policy in Paris

1:00 p.m.: Chicago Fed's Evans

2:30 p.m.: Fed Vice Chair Daniel Tarullo

3:00 p.m.: Consumer credit

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