Dow Ends Above 14,300 for First Time Ahead of Jobs Report; S&P 500, Nasdaq Hit Multi-Year Highs
Stocks finished higher Thursday, with the Dow posting fresh all-time highs for the third-straight day, following an upbeat weekly jobless claims report and ahead of the widely-watched monthly government jobs data.
For the week so far, all three major averages are up more than 1 percent across the board and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq are on pace for their biggest weekly gains in nine weeks.
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The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 33.25 points to end at 14,329.49, led by Boeing and Bank of America.
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The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, slid near 13.
Among key S&P sectors, financials and techs led, while utilities edged lower.
"There's further upside for the market—investors should be looking for some dips rather than chasing aggressively here," said Russ Koesterich, chief investment strategist at Blackrock, adding investors should look at energy companies and international stocks that have lagged.
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Despite the recent market upside, Koesterich anticipates more volatility in the second quarter.
"You have some scope of disappointment in the second quarter as you start to see the full impact of the sequester and the tax hikes," he warned. "Can companies deliver when there are economic headwinds?"
Major banks including Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan traded higher ahead of the Federal Reserve's stress test results. The annual stress tests aim to measure how well the nation's 18 largest banks are positioned in case of another financial crisis.
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Gap jumped after being temporarily halted after a vendor inadvertently posted its same-store sales prematurely on its public website. The retailer's same-store sales in February rose 3 percent. Gap was in the process of shifting its sales reporting from pre-market to after the closing bell.
"[Gap] talked about women's business being strong and denims. Women's is always your business and when you get denim working, that's a plus. And you're gonna see a return for denim in the spring," said Dana Telsey, CEO of Telsey Advisory Group. "[Also,] Gap's a beneficiary of JCPenney's weakness."
Earlier, JCPenney announced it is laying off 2,200 employees, according to a report from The Dallas Morning News. The cuts follow another 19,000 employees that have been laid off in the past year as the retailer continues to struggle with dropping sales.
Boeing climbed after the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it is examining the lithium-ion battery on the 787 Dreamliner, but has yet to find the cause of the fire in January. Earlier, Boeing touched its highest level since June 2008.
Time Warner rose to its best level in nearly 11 years after the media company said it will spin off its Time Inc. magazine division. The company plans to complete the process by the end of the year. The decision came after a deal to merge most of the magazine group with Meredith fell apart. At least four brokerages raised their price target on Time Warner.
Hot Topic skyrocketed nearly 30 percent after private-equity firm Sycamore Partners announced it will buy the teen apparel retailer for $14 a share in cash.
Green Mountain rallied after the specialty coffee maker said the Lipton hot and iced teas will be available in K-Cup and Vue packs starting this summer.
Among earnings, Smithfield Foods surged after the pork producer posted quarterly results that topped Wall Street expectations, thanks to higher sales of its packaged products. Kroger advanced after the supermarket chain swung to a quarterly profit after total sales matched Wall Street estimates.
European shares pared their early gains after the European Central Bank kept its interest rates unchanged at a record low of 0.75 percent, as expected. And the Bank of England kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 0.5 percent and held the size of its asset purchase program at 375 billion pounds.
"A gradual recovery should commence in the second part (of 2013)," said ECB President Mario Draghi at a news conference following the rate decision. "Inflation expectations for the euro area remain firmly anchored, in line with our aim of maintaining inflation rates below but close to 2 percent over the medium term. Overall, this will allow our monetary policy stance to remain accommodative."
The Nikkei came off a four-and-a-half year high but held onto most of its gains amid after the Bank of Japan opted to leave its monetary policy unchanged. Investors widely expected the move, and are looking ahead to April's meeting for bold stimulus under Haruhiko Kuroda's new leadership.
On the economic front, jobless claims unexpectedly declined to a seasonally adjusted 340,000 last week, according to the Labor Department, versus expectations for a gain to 355,000. And the four-week moving average fell to hit its lowest level since March 2008. But planned layoffs climbed in February as the financial sector cut the most employees in over a year, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
The employment data come one day before the Labor Department reports non-farm payroll figures, with economists expecting a gain of 160,000.
(Read More: Jobs Report Could Add More Fuel to Stock Rally)
Also on the economic front, the U.S. trade deficit expanded to $44.45 billion in January, according to the Commerce Department. And productivity slid at a 1.9 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter, the fastest pace in nearly four years, according to the Labor Department.
And consumer credit rose at an annual rate of 7 percent, or $16.15 billion in January from December, according to the Federal Reserve. Economists polled by Reuters had expected consumer credit to rise $14.50 billion in January.
—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)
Coming Up This Week:
FRIDAY: McDonald's sales, non-farm payrolls, wholesale trade; Earnings from Ann, Foot Locker
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