U.S. stocks rose modestly on Thursday, extending the prior day's rally, as investors weighed varied economic reports a day after the Federal Reserve signaled interest rates would remain low for the foreseeable future.
Hewlett-Packard fell after provider of computer hardware and services tallied second-quarter earnings per share of 88 cents, excluding items, on $27.3 billion in revenue, versus estimates of EPS of 88 cents on $27.4 billion in sales.
Chinese retailer JD.com rose in its first day of trading on the Nasdaq; Best Buy gained after the electronics retailer reported first-quarter earnings that beat estimates; Dollar Tree rallied after the discount retailer reported a rise in first-quarter profit; Sears Holdings fell after the retailer reported a larger loss for the first quarter and Hess advanced after refiner Marathon Petroleum said it would pay about $2.87 billion for the oil and gas producer's retail business. Apple rose to a 52-week high.
"We're heartened that the markets have been able to hold onto yesterday's nice gains. I'm not sure there is any particular driver, with the exception of yesterday's Fed minutes, which showed they are contemplating the next big move in rates, but don't seem anxious to be too aggressive," said Jim Russell, senior equity strategist for US Bank Wealth Management in Cincinnati.
"We got a mixed bag of data, both overnight and this morning, overseas and domestically. And we've had a string of retail announcements this week that have been on the disappointing side of the ledger. We suspect weather was part of it," Russell said.
Thursday's data included the Markit Economics preliminary index of U.S. manufacturing, which rose to 56.2 this month from 55.4 in April. And, an initial purchasing managers' index in China climbed to a five-month high.
Read MoreU.S. factory activity expands in May - Markit
Other reports had sales of previously owned homes rising last month; the Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators gaining in April and more Americans than estimated filing claims for jobless benefits last week.
Investors will "reflect more upon positive economic data out of China than we will the weekly jobless claims numbers," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities.
Thursday's economic reports "are probably being overshadowed by the dovish comments by the Fed, that they are going to keep rates lower for longer," said Mike Serio, a Denver-based regional chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank.
"If we continue to get jobless claims numbers like we had today, and there is no inflation in employment costs, don't look for the Fed to raise short-term rates anytime soon," said Serio.