NEW YORK (AP) -- Encouraging news on the U.S. job market pushed stocks higher on Wall Street Thursday, sending the market toward some big milestones.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose back near 16,000 points and the Standard & Poor's 500 index was just below 1,800 points. Both indexes crossed those levels for the first time on Monday, but have yet to close above them.
First-time applications for unemployment benefits dropped by 21,000 last week, the Labor Department reported, the latest sign that the U.S. job market is recovering. The number of applications, which is a proxy for how many workers are being laid off, is now near where it was before the Great Recession.
General Motors rose after the U.S. government said it expects to sell its remaining stake in the company by the end of the year. The Treasury Department still owns 31.3 million shares of the auto giant after bailing it out five years ago. GM gained $1.07, or 2.8 percent, to $38.76.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 92 points, or 0.6 percent, at 15,992 as of 2:30 p.m. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 13 points, or 0.8 percent, to 1,794. The Nasdaq composite rose 41 points, or 1 percent, to 3,962.
In a sign that investors are taking on more risk, small-company stocks rose at a much faster pace than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index jumped 18 points, or 1.7 percent, to 1,117.
The stock market has struggled this week as investors grapple with the prospect of the Federal Reserve reducing its stimulus as well as some disappointing corporate earnings. The S&P 500 is trading close to its all-time high and is heading for what could be its biggest annual gain in a decade, making investors wary of pushing stocks higher. The S&P 500 is up 26 percent so far this year.
Johnson Controls was among the biggest gainers in early trading after the company, which makes heating and ventilation systems for buildings, said its board approved at $3 billion increase in its share repurchase program. Johnson Controls rose $2.80, or 5.9 percent, to $51.10.
In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year note edged down to 2.78 percent from 2.80 percent Wednesday. The yield, which is a benchmark used to set interest rates on many kinds of loans, including home mortgages, is the highest it's been since Sept. 17.
In commodities trading, the price of oil rose $1.59, or 1.7 percent, to $95.44 a barrel. Gold dropped $14.40, or 1.1 percent, to $1,243.60 an ounce.
Among other stocks making big moves;
— Dollar Tree, a discount retailer, fell $3.21, or 5.5 percent, to $55.70 after the company reported earnings that fell short of Wall Street's expectations. Other discount retailers also dropped. Dollar General fell 88 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $57.48.
— Target fell $2.83, or 4.3 percent, to $63.59 after the retailer said its third-quarter net income fell 47 percent after it was stung by costs related to its expansion into Canada.
—Williams-Sonoma jumped $3.80, or 7 percent, to $59.31 after the company said its third-quarter net income rose 16 percent as customers spent more at its West Elm and PBteen stores.