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Stocks cheer Fed; best 2 days of 2014 for Dow, S&P

U.S. stocks rallied on Thursday, with the Dow industrials climbing more than 400 points for the first time in three years, as investors applauded the Federal Reserve's pledge that it would be patient in increasing interest rates.

"You've got people that have underperformed that don't want to be left behind. I didn't understand why falling oil is bad for the stock market so I think part is the reversal of that," said James Paulson, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management.

"The reality is markets were hit with we're not sure what's happening and why, as oil has been acting as something akin to a global interest rate. The good news is the Fed is aware of what is going on, and they want to be friendly, so people are hopefully in better cheer," said Jack Caffrey, equity portfolio manager at J.P. Morgan.

"Seasonally it's a time of good flows into equities. If anything, seasonally the behavior over the last two weeks was an anomaly," said Caffrey of the market's recent slide.

The CBOE Volatility Index, a measure of investor uncertainty, fell nearly 14 percent to 16.81.

Thursday data had jobless claims falling by 6,000 to 289,000 last week, the lowest since early November.

And, the Conference Board's index of leading indicators advanced in November for a third consecutive month, signalling the U.S. economy is picking up steam heading into the new year.

Oracle rallied after the software marker reported fiscal second-quarter profit and sales that exceeded estimates; Hertz Global Holdings jumped after investor Carl Icahn reported hiking his stake in the car-rental company.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
DJIA
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S&P 500
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NASDAQ
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The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 421.28 points, or 2.4 percent, to 17,778.15, with Microsoft and International Business Machines leading blue-chip gains that included all 30 components.

The S&P 500 advanced 48.34 points, or 2.4 percent, to 2,061.23, with technology leading gains and all 10 of its major sectors rising.

The Nasdaq added 104.08 points, or 2.2 percent, to 4,748.40.

For every share falling, more than four rose on the New York Stock Exchange, were 976 million shares traded. Composite volume approached 4.7 billion.

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Getty Images
Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

The U.S. dollar gained against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners and the yield on the 10-year note used to figure mortgage rates and other consumer loans gained 7 basis points to 2.2068 percent.

After rising to $58.73 a barrel, West Texas Intermediate turned lower, losing $2.36, or 4.2 percent, to $54.11 a barrel. Gold futures for February delivery added 30 cents to $1,194.80 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

American motorists are paying less than $2.50 a gallon at the pump for the first time in more than five years, with retail gasoline prices falling to an average $2.477 a gallon Wednesday night, according to the AAA.

U.S. stocks surged on Wednesday, with the Dow marking its best session of the year, as investors celebrated a rally in the energy sector and the Federal Reserve's pledge to be patient in raising interest rates.

Read MoreStocks rally on oil turn as Fed vows rate patience

Coming Up This Week:

Friday

Earnings: Blackberry, CarMax, Finish Line

10:00 a.m.: Chicago Fed President Charles Evans

12:30 p.m.: Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker

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