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Stocks mostly rise on jobless claims and ECB; another record for S&P 500

U.S. stocks mostly rose on Thursday, lifting the S&P 500 to another record, after data had jobless claims falling to a three-month low ahead of Friday's monthly employment report.

U.S., weekly applications for jobless benefits declined to 323,000, the lowest in three months, while new orders for American factory goods fell in January.

"I still view the jobs market as relatively healthy. We'll get an okay jobs number tomorrow. Is it going to meet expectations, I have no idea, but the trend should be roughly in the 100,000 category," said Paul Nolte, senior vice president and portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago.


Stocks retained gains as President Obama held a nationally televised news conference to deliver a statement on Ukraine, saying a proposed Crimea referendum violates international law, and calling on Congress to support the International Monetary Fund's capacity to lend to the nation.

The euro jumped against the dollar after the European Central Bank left interest rates unchanged, with ECB President Mario Draghi indicating the risk of deflation in the euro region had abated as new estimates pointed to inflation nearing targets by the end of 2016.

"One of the interesting reactions is how much you're getting a bounce in the overseas markets, it seems like you're getting in part a relief rally; we haven't had the Ukraine implode yet, so that's s a good thing," said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank in Cleveland.

"We either sink or rise based on the global economy as a whole, so keep an eye on all the parts," he added.

"What we really want to see is not more stimulus, but an improving economy both here and overseas," said McCain, who added that the ECB holding pat and deciding no further stimulus was currently needed sent an encouraging message.

Costco Wholesale shares declined after the warehouse club operator reported a 15 percent drop in quarterly profit, trailing analysts' estimates. Shares of Staples fell sharply after the office-supplies chain projected a quarterly drop in sales and said it would shut as many as 225 stores in North America.

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 gained 62.1 points, or 0.4 percent, to 16,422.28, with American Express leading gains that included 25 of its 30 components and Pfizer the Dow's biggest decliner.

After climbing to an intraday record 1,881.94, The S&P 500 added 3.23 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,877.04, a record finish, with financials and industrials the best performing and utilities and health care the greatest laggards among its 10 major industry groups.

Biotechnology shares helped pull the Nasdaq Composite into the red in afternoon trade.

"The health care sector has tanked, so there was some news," said Dan Greenhaus, chief strategist at BTIG, who pointed to Gilead Sciences as among the biotechnology companies getting hit.

Erasing gains, the Nasdaq fell 5.85 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,352.13.

Oil futures rose 11 cents to $101.56 a barrel and gold added $11.50, or 0.9 percent, to $1,351.80 an ounce.

The 10-year Treasury yield used in figuring mortgage rates and other consumer loans rose 3 basis points to 2.736 percent.

"Some of the comments from Draghi this morning certainly put a boost in for the international markets, and carried over into the U.S.," said Nolte of the ECB president's comments, which came after the European Central Bank held its interest rate unchanged and hiked its 2014 growth outlook.

Crimea's parliament on Thursday voted to join Russia and scheduled a referendum for March 16 on the move, escalating the standoff between Moscow and the West over the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula.

(See: With US data in the freezer, traders look overseas)

In the U.S. on Thursday, the government reported jobless claims last week declined by 26,000 to 323,000. Another report had U.S. productivity rising 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter.

And, Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported its count of U.S. companies planning to cut staff fell in February, with the bulk of layoffs seen in the financial sector.

(Read more: Planned layoffs in U.S. down 7.3 percent: Challenger)

Stock-index futures held modest gains after the data.

The government also reported a 0.7 percent decline in factory orders in January, slightly more than the consensus forecast for a 0.5 percent drop.

On Wednesday, U.S. stocks were near unchanged, with the S&P 500 closing just shy of its record, as investors tracked developments in Ukraine and disregarded U.S. economic reports as impacted by the weather.

—By CNBC's Kate Gibson

Coming Up This Week:

Thursday

10:00 a.m.: Factory orders

Friday

Earnings: Foot Locker

8:30 a.m.: Employment report

8:30 a.m.: International trade

3:00 p.m.: Consumer credit

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