US Markets

Stocks finish near session highs, S&P closes in on record

Closing Bell Exchange: Trader's market

Stocks drifted higher to close at session highs Thursday, with the S&P nearing its all-time high, as investors seemed to shrug off a mixed bag of economic and earnings reports.

Stocks bobbled along the flatline early in the session, then turned higher midday.

Major U.S. Indexes

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 92.67 points to finish at 16,133.23, led by Verizon and DuPont.

The advanced 11.03 points to end at 1,839.78, closing in on its all-time high of 1,850.84. The Nasdaq climbed 29.59 points to end at 4,267.55. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, ended below 15.

All key S&P sectors finished in positive territory, lifted by telecoms and materials.

All-time highs around the corner?

On the economic front, jobless claims declined less than expected in the latest week, while consumer prices ticked up 0.1 percent in January, matching expectations.

Meanwhile, data from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve showed manufacturing activity in the Mid-Atlantic region unexpectedly contracted in February as new orders plunged.

Investors have been largely shrugging off lower-than-expected economic data over the last two weeks, pointing to harsh weather as a reason for unexpected weakness in reports.

Natural gas inventories were revised upwards but were still at their lowest for February since 2004. Nat gas futures spiked to settle at a five-year high on Wednesday on forecasts of another arctic air blast descending on North America.

(Read more: Market looking worn as traders ignore data)

American Apparel tumbled after the clothing manufacturer enlisted lawyers at Skadden Arps to work on restructuring options, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Among earnings, Wal-Mart fell after the big-box retailer handed in a disappointing full-year forecast. Adding to woes, Wal-Mart's same-store sales fell for the fourth quarter in a row.

Tesla Motors soared to hit an all-time high after the electric-car maker posted better-than-expected earnings and said deliveries of its Model S vehicles would spike more than 55 percent this year.

(Read more: Tesla forecasts a big 2014)

Hewlett Packard,, Groupon and Nordstrom are among notable companies slated to post quarterly earnings after the closing bell.

On Thursday evening, Facebook said it will acquire mobile messaging provider WhatsApp in a deal worth nearly $16 billion. The purchase is Facebook's largest yet, dwarfing the $1 billion it paid for Instagram. Meanwhile, BlackBerry shares jumped as investors placed bets that the smartphone maker's messaging platform has been undervalued.

(Read more: Facebook buys WhatsApp: A desperate move?)

New Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is scheduled to testify before lawmakers on Feb. 27 after a Senate panel previously canceled the original hearing date due to a snowstorm in DC. Yellen is expected to provide an update on the U.S. central bank's semi-annual monetary policy report.

European shares slipped after France's service sector shrank by its most in nine months in February.

—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)

Coming Up This Week:

FRIDAY: Existing home sales, Fed's Bullard speaks; Earnings from Dish Networks

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