A rebound in retail sales and strong jobs reports pushed stocks near their highest levels of the year.
U.S. retailers had their best June sales results since 1999 as shoppers were lured into stores by warm weather and deep discounts. Kohl's Corp., Target Corp., and Urban Outfitters Inc. each gained more than 6 percent.
Investors have been concerned that high gas prices would constrain consumer spending as people looked for ways to save money. The higher sales figures reassured markets that consumers were becoming more willing to spend again.
"The closest thing to an unadulterated barometer of our progress is same-store sales," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago. Same-store sales for the 28 retailers who reported them on Thursday were up 6.9 percent. "Everything is tied to it: Sales drives profits, profits drive hiring and hiring drives sales. It's a neat, virtuous circle."
An improving job market likely helped. The number of people who made first-time claims for unemployment benefits dropped last week to a seven-week low of 418,000, the government reported. That's a sign that employers are laying off fewer workers.
Separately, payroll processor Automatic Data Processing said companies added 157,000 employees in June. The bulk of the hiring came from small businesses. The tally is more than double the number economists had forecast and far more than the 36,000 added the previous month. The report isn't always an accurate predictor of the Labor Department's monthly unemployment report, but has been more of a bellwether in recent months. The Labor Department's report will be released Friday.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 93.47 points, or 0.7 percent, to close at 12,719.49. The Standard and Poor's 500 index added 14 points, or 1.1 percent, to 1,353.22. The tech-focused Nasdaq composite closed at 2,872.66 after gaining 1.4 percent. It briefly traded at a new high for the year of 2,877.
The Dow and S&P 500 are close to their 2011 highs, reached on April 29. Then came higher gas prices, a slowdown in manufacturing and job growth and bad weather in the South. That led to concerns that the economic recovery was stalling. At the same time, worries about a debt default by Greece also heightened fears of a European financial crisis. The Dow and S&P had six straight weeks of declines falling as much as 8 percent off their April highs. Just three weeks ago, the S&P index had given up nearly all of its gains for the year.
A rebound in a key manufacturing index and stronger sales figures from Nike Inc. and other companies pushed the index up nearly 6 percent since June 15th. Signs of a deal to help Greece avoid default and allow the country to restructure its debt also calmed financial markets. The Dow and S&P 500 are now up 2.5 percent so far this month. The Dow is up 9.86 percent for the year.
Trading has been light in the stock market this week. Markets were closed in the U.S. on Monday for the July 4th holiday. No major corporate earnings came out this week. Aluminum maker Alcoa Inc. is the first major U.S. company to report second-quarter earnings on Monday.
The Labor Department releases its closely-watched monthly employment report before the market opens Friday. Economists estimate the unemployment rate will remain at 9.1 percent and that employers added only 90,000 jobs last month. But some experts now believe that number could be higher. After the ADP figures were released, economists at Deutsche Bank raised their forecasts for the number of jobs created in June to 175,000 from 100,000.
Four stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was average at 3.6 billion shares.