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US stocks close higher on Russia deal, oil gains; Dow up triple digits

U.S. stocks closed sharply higher on Thursday as investors cheered a cease-fire agreement between Russia and Ukraine, amid firming oil prices and strong earnings reports.

"I think the market is taking its cue off Putin's announcement of a cease-fire agreement," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. He also expected a compromise to come out of Greece and the euro zone soon.

The announcement of a deal between Russia and Ukraine came in early Thursday morning and sent futures higher.

Most analysts remained confident that a Grexit would not occur, although Greece was unable to reach a deal with the European Union to stay in an EU bailout program, the Eurogroup's Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Wednesday. He noted talks will continue on Monday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up more than 110 points, with Cisco finishing the day up 9.39 percent on better-than-expected earnings to lead gains.

The Nasdaq closed up more than 1 percent to its highest level since March 2000, the peak of the dotcom bubble. Apple continued to trade at all-time highs. The S&P 500 closed up 1.44 percent for the year.

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Crude oil futures settled up $2.37, or 4.9 percent, to $51.21 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Energy was the third-best performing sector on the S&P 500.

"I think we need to hold $50 in order to hold that upside," said JJ Kinahan, chief derivatives strategist at TD Ameritrade.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded below 16.

20-year relative performance of major indices

Futures trimmed some gains as retail sales for January came in weaker than expected, down 0.8 percent and near December's 0.9 percent decline. Retail sales ex-autos declined 0.9 percent, though when excluding vehicles and gasoline, sales posted a moderate increase to 0.2 percent last month after a revised 0.3 percent drop in December.

To be sure, Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, noted that the ex-autos and gas retail sales increase of 0.2 percent was encouraging, showing that the data "net-net (was) higher than expected at the core."

Jobless claims were 304,000 last week, more than expected and an increase of 25,000 from last week.

"Weaker data is jibing exactly with what we've been measuring in the last few quarters of (declining) estimates," said Nick Raich, CEO of The Earnings Scout.

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Business inventories increased 0.1 percent in December, below estimates of a 0.2 percent increase. Sales decreased 0.9 percent.

Natural gas inventories fell 160 billion cubic feet for the last week, below forecasts and the five-year average of 178 billion cubic feet.

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 110.2 points, or 0.62 percent, at 17,972.38, with Cisco leading gains and American Express the greatest of six blue chip laggards.

The credit card company fell about 6 percent on news that Costco will not accept American Express in the United States starting next April, after the two companies failed to reach an agreement on renewal terms.

The S&P 500 closed up 19.92 points, or 0.96 percent, at 2,088.45, with materials leading gains and utilities and telecommunications the only two laggards. The industrials sector gained to close positive for the year.

The Nasdaq closed up 56.43 points, or 1.18 percent, to 4,857.61, its highest level since March 2000.

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Four stocks advanced for every decliner on the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 736 million and a composite volume of nearly 3.7 billion in the close.

High-frequency trading accounted for 47.5 percent of February daily trade volume of about 7.3 billion shares, according to TABB Group. During the peak levels of high-frequency trading in 2009, about 61 percent of 9.8 billion of average daily shares traded were executed by high-frequency traders.

Gold futures settled up $1.10, or 0.09 percent, to $1,220.70.

The U.S. 10-year Treasury yield traded near 1.99 percent. The U.S. dollar reversed to gain against major world currencies.

In central bank news, Sweden lowered interest rates and announced a 10 billion kronor ($1.2 billion) bond-buying program while the Bank of England hinted a rate hike could come next year.

Breakfast cereal giant Kellogg reported lower-than-expected quarterly sales as weak demand in Europe and Asia Pacific overshadowed a revival in U.S. sales.

Online travel agency Expedia said early Thursday it would buy rival Orbitz Worldwide at $12 a share for total of about $1.33 billion, as it looks to increase its customers base in a highly competitive industry.

Time gave a downbeat sales outlook for 2015, on weaker circulation. Time, which publishes magazines like People and Sports Illustrated, sees a three to six percent drop in revenue this year, more than the consensus forecast for a two percent decline. Time earned an adjusted 73 cents per share for its latest quarter, five cents below estimates.

Avon Products earned an adjusted 20 cents per share for its latest quarter, missing estimates by five cents, and revenue was also below analyst projections. Currency fluctuations had a significant impact on Avon's results, and the company said that will continue to be the case this year as it does most of its business outside the U.S.

McGraw-Hill Financial, the parent of Standard and Poor's, earned 95 cents per share for its latest quarter, a five-cent beat, while revenue was above estimates as well.

In other corporate news, Tesla unexpectedly reported a quarterly loss after the bell on Wednesday, but shares rose in after-hours trade on better-than-expected shipments.

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Among the few remaining companies yet to post earnings, AIG, Kraft Foods and Groupon report after the bell.

CNBC's Peter Schacknow and Reuters contributed to this report.

On tap this week:

Thursday

Earnings: AIG, CBS, DaVita, Digital Realty Trust, Kraft Foods, Republic Services, Groupon, King Digital, Regal Entertainment, Shutterfly, Zynga

4:30 p.m.: Fed balance sheet/money supply

Friday

Earnings: ArcelorMittal, Brookfield Asset Management, J.M. Smucker

8:30 a.m.: Import and export prices

10:00 a.m.: Consumer sentiment

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