Investors shifted their attention from Europe to the U.S. on Thursday, pushing stocks slightly higher on good jobs and manufacturing reports.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 45.33 points, or 0.4 percent, to 11,868.81. The Dow had lost 360 points over the past three days on worries that Europe's latest plan to keep its currency union intact would fail.
Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Bank, said the break from selling meant that investors are starting to focus on signs of strength in the U.S. economy.
"We're not completely insulated (from Europe), but trouble there doesn't necessary spell problems for us," he said.
Before the market opened, the government reported that the number of people applying for unemployment benefits dropped sharply last week to 366,000, the fewest level since May 2008. That's a sign that layoffs are easing, a first step toward bringing down the unemployment rate, which currently stands at 8.6 percent.
Investors were also encouraged by a report from the Federal Reserve of New York that its index measuring regional manufacturing jumped to the highest level since May. That was far more than economists were expecting. A similar report from the Philadelphia branch of the Fed also increased more than analysts anticipated.
"The base of the economy is getting stronger," said Steven Malin, an associate at money manager Aronson Johnson Ortiz.
FedEx Corp. reported that its quarterly income nearly doubled on strong growth in online shopping during the holiday season. FedEx is seen as a bellwether for the economy. Its stock jumped 8 percent.
The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 3.94 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,215.76. The gains were broad. All but two of the 10 industry groups in the index rose. The two groups _ technology and energy _ edged down less than 0.3 percent each.
The biggest gains were in utilities and health care stocks. The profits of those companies are less likely to crumble in an economic slowdown. That suggests that investors, though encouraged by the good news Thursday, were still playing it safe.
"There's a defensive tone to the market," said Jeff Schwarte, a portfolio manager at Principal Global Investors. "Investors still aren't sure about the economy."
The Nasdaq rose 1.70 points, less than 0.1 percent, to 2,541.01.
In other corporate news:
_ Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. jumped 21 percent to $24.20 on its first day of trading. The initial public offering valued the fashion design company at $3.8 billion.
_ Novellus Systems Inc. jumped 16 percent. The semiconductor equipment maker said late Wednesday that it was being acquired by rival Lam Research Corp. Lam fell 8 percent.
_ Rite Aid Corp. rose 3.5 percent. The drugstore chain announced that losses had narrowed in its third quarter.
European markets rose slightly, a day after big declines, as an auction of Spanish government bonds drew strong demand from investors. Germany's DAX rose 1 percent; France's main stock index rose 0.6 percent.
The euro rose against the dollar, moving back above $1.30, a day after hitting an 11-month low. The yields on Spanish and Italian government fell, a sign that investors were less worried about the ability of those countries to pay back their debts.