Stocks surge again; Apple's best day since April

U.S. stocks surged for a second day on Thursday, with benchmarks turning higher for the year, as oil steadied and on thinking the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank would buttress the global economy.

"There is enough slack in the overall global economy and the U.S. economy to keep the Fed more inclined to keep rates low. They'll probably feel the need for some time in 2015 because they've signaled that, but probably not until late in the year," said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank.

"With the Fed reemphasizing in the minutes that they are concerned about overseas markets, investors will more explicitly factor in what is going on in Europe and Japan in coming weeks," added McCain, referring to a release Wednesday afternoon from the U.S. central bank, which had members voicing concerns about slowing growth overseas.

The CBOE Volatility Index, a measure of investor uncertainty, fell nearly 12 percent to 17.01.

Investors drew a collective sigh of relief at the halt in the rapid spiral down in the price of crude, with West Texas Intermediate losing more than 40 percent of its value in the last three months.

"When you're losing weight, and you lose two, three or five pounds, you feel good. If you suddenly lose 50 pounds, you're worried something is wrong," said McCain of the distress created by the crude's plunge.

Apple rallied after the release of figures showing customers spent nearly $500 million on applications and in-app services in the first week of the year. Costco Wholesale climbed after the warehouse retailer reported a better-than-expected increase in same-store sales last month; Family Dollar Stores fell after the discount retailer reported quarterly earnings short of estimates, and J.C. Penney dropped after the retailer said it would close about 40 stores in the next year.

Data Thursday had jobless claims dropping by 4,000 to 294,000 last week, with the better-than-expected number coming a day before the payrolls report for December.

S&P 500

Recouping a 461-point deficit tallied on Monday and Tuesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose as much as 331 points, and finished at 17,907.87, up 323.35 points, or 1.8 percent. All 30 blue-chip components landed in the green. Thursday marked the fourth session the Dow has moved triple digits, the longest such streak since October.

The S&P 500 added 36.24 points, or 1.8 percent, to 2,062.14, with all 10 of its major industry groups rising.

The Nasdaq gained 85.72 points, or 1.8 percent, to 4,736.19.

Thursday's robust gains lifted all three indexes into positive terrain for 2015.

For every share falling, more than three rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where 848 million shares traded. Composite volume surpassed 3.8 billion.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude-oil futures for February delivery wavered before ending up 14 cents, or 0.3 percent, at $48.79 a barrel. Gold futures shed $2.20, or 0.2 percent, to $1,208.50 an ounce.

Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

The U.S. dollar rose against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners and the 10-year Treasury note yield used to figure mortgage rates and other consumer loans rose 4 basis points to 2.0128 percent.

Comments late Wednesday by Fed Bank of Chicago President Charles Evans helped Wall Street's bullish slant, with Evans saying he did not believe the central bank should be in a rush to hike interest rates.

In a letter to European lawmakers, ECB President Mario Draghi said the ECB would reassess its monetary-policy stance early this year, and that ECB moves could include sovereign bond purchases, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.

"Three things are driving the market significantly higher as a follow on to yesterday's strength," Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, said.

"First and foremost, continued stabilization in the energy market; number two, after the close, Fed President Charles Evans commenting that the Fed may not move until 2016 put a bid in futures last night and that that's holding, and third anticipation that the ECB will actually start outright quantitative easing at their meeting, which is later this month," Hogan said.

On Wednesday, U.S. stocks jumped, with the S&P 500 rebounding from a five-session dive, as U.S. crude stopped a four-day skid, concerns eased about a Greek exit from the European Union and investors offered a favorable reaction to minutes from the Fed.

Read More Best day for stocks in three weeks; oil halts slide

Coming Up This Week:


8:30 a.m.: Nonfarm payrolls for December

8:30 a.m.: Unemployment rate

10 a.m.: Wholesale inventories for November

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