Rally Pushes Dow to Highest Since November

Cindy Perman|CNBC.com

Stocks rallied Thursday as investors were encouraged by the latest jobless report and round of corporate earnings.

The Dow Jones Industrial Averagewas up more than 1.6 percent, putting the average above 9,200. The S&P 500 was closing in on the 1,000 mark and the Nasdaq topped 2,000.

It was the highest intraday level for the Dow and S&P since November, and for the Nasdaq, since October.

Jobless claimes rose by 25,000 last week to 584,000 but investors were encouraged as talk on the Street put the number as high as 600,000. Plus, the four week-moving average, which smooths out weekly fluctuations, fell to its lowest level since Jan. 24. And continuing claims were the lowest since April.

Shares of General Electric surged after Goldman Sachs upgraded the stock to "buy"from "neutral," after comments from House Finanical-Services Chairman Barney Frank, who suggested the conglomerate, and CNBC parent, may not have to break up its finance arm.

And CIT Group gained more than 10 percent after the insurer secured $3 billion in creditfrom Barclays Bank.

Shares of PennyMac , which buys distressed home loans and is run by several former Countrywide Financial executives, fell on their debuton the New York Stock Exchange, after the offering fell short of expectations.

In this morning's wave of earnings, ExxonMobil reported its profit plunged 66 percentamid the drop in oil prices. And Royal Dutch Shell said its profit dropped 70 percent.

This came after similar reports of a sharp drop in profits due to sliding oil prices from ConocoPhillips and BP earlier in the week. Still to come: Results from Chevron are due out before the bell Friday.

Oil actually rose Thursday, climbing about $3 to above $66 a barrel.

And Travelers delivered its first earnings report since being added to the Dow 30. The insurer said its profit fell 20 percentand missed its target.

Dow Chemical posted a surprise profit and said the U.S. economy has bottomed.

A couple of positive readings on consumer-products companies: Colgate-Palmolivebeat expectations, helped by cost-cutting measures, and backed its outlook. Motorolareported a small profit, while revenue slipped just slightly and the handset maker boosted its cash reserves.

Elsewhere in tech land, Alcatel-Lucent, the world's biggest provider of fixed telecom equipment, reported a quarterly loss but said it hoped to be "moderately profitable" in 2010.

The after-the-bell list for today includes: Dow component Walt Disney and MetLife .

After the bell Wednesday were two notable reports: Software provider Symantec's missed by a penny, while Visa beat expectations.

Still to come: At 10:30am ET, we'll get a report on natural gas inventories.

Plus, the Treasury will auction 7-year notes today, following a relatively strong auction of 2-year notes Tuesday and a somewhat weak auction of 5-year notes yesterday. Once again, we'll get the results shortly after 1 pm New York time.

- Peter Schacknow contributed to this report.

Still to Come:

THURSDAY: Seven-year Treasury auction results; Earnings from Disney, MetLife after the bell
FRIDAY: GDP; Chicago PMI; Earnings from Chevron

Send comments to cindy.perman@nbcuni.com.