Stocks climbed 1 percent on Thursday after both weekly jobless claims and data on growth in private-sector jobs pointed to improving labor market conditions a day before the government's closely watched monthly jobs report.
Equities extended gains throughout the morning, though volume remained in the aftermath of the massive storm Sandy in the U.S. northeast, which forced a historic two-day market closure at the beginning of the week.
Weekly jobless claims unexpectedly fell in the latest week, dropping to 363,000 from a revised 372,000 in the previous week. Separately, payrolls processor ADP reported that private employers added 158,000 in October, far more than had been expected. The ADP report was based on a different methodology than previous months, which could impact comparisons.
"There is a general trend of things getting more positive, which should help stocks and the economy at large going forward," said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank in Cleveland, Ohio.
Markets are still recovering from the aftermath of Sandy, which wreaked havoc up and down the U.S. eastern seaboard and forced financial markets to close Monday and Tuesday. Trading could still be volatile, with many market participants unable to reach their offices and some working from home amid ongoing power outages and limited mass transit.
Still, some stocks sparked heavy trading.
JDA Software Group , a maker of supply-chain management software, soared 17 percent to $44.79 after it agreed to be bought by privately held rival RedPrairie Corp for about $1.9 billion in cash.
Pfizer Inc , which delayed the release of its quarterly results because of the storm, posted revenue that fell far short of expectations, sending shares down 1.3 percent to $24.55. Exxon Mobil Corp , which like Pfizer is a Dow component, slipped 0.2 percent after reporting a drop in quarterly profit. Exxon's profit topped expectations, but its oil and gas output declined more than expected.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was up 158.32 points, or 1.21 percent, at 13,254.78. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was up 14.48 points, or 1.03 percent, at 1,426.64. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 40.79 points, or 1.37 percent, at 3,018.02.
It was the best daily gain for both the Dow and S&P 500 since September 13 and comes after the S&P fell 2 percent in October, breaking a four-month streak of gains.
In other economic data, private industry group the Conference Board reported U.S. consumer confidence rose to a four-year high in October, at 72.2, though the result was slightly under expectations. The government reported construction spending rose 0.6 percent in September, as forecast. A private survey showed U.S. manufacturing conditions rose in September to the best levels since May.
Overseas markets were higher, with Europe boosted by strong results from such companies as Royal Dutch Shell and Chinese shares posting their strongest daily gains in more than three weeks on bullish data.
U.S. shares of Sony Corp rose 0.5 percent to $11.80 after the Japanese company posted a profit in its latest quarter and affirmed its full-year view.
(Editing by Leslie Adler)