By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks closed about 1 percent higher on Thursday, led by tech shares, after weekly jobless claims figures pointed to improving labor market conditions a day before the closely watched monthly payroll report.
The European Central Bank also lifted sentiment, putting the S&P 500 at another all-time closing high, as the ECB cut interest rates for the first time in 10 months and held out the possibility of further action if necessary to boost the euro zone economy.
The move follows Wednesday's Federal Reserve statement in which the Fed said it will continue its bond buying scheme to keep interest rates low and spur growth, and would step up purchases if needed.
"This shows that central banks are very determined to ensure that the system is stable and that the global economy continues to be propped up if needed," said Weyman Gong, chief investment strategist at Signature in Norfolk, Virginia. "This makes us very comfortable with U.S. markets for the rest of the year."
Jobless claims fell sharply in the latest week, dropping to their lowest since the early days of the 2007-09 recession.
The data follows a string of underwhelming reports, including a slow rate of growth in factory activity in the U.S. and China, which added to concerns about the pace of growth going into the April jobs report. Analysts are looking for 145,000 jobs to have been added in the month, up from the 88,000 added in March.
"U.S. markets are very focused on jobs, and the claims report suggests the positive trend of hiring could be continuing," said Gong, who helps oversee $2.5 billion.
The Nasdaq advanced on strength large-cap tech shares like Apple Inc (AAPL.O), which rose 1.4 percent to $445.52, and Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), up 1.7 percent to $252.55. The PHLX semiconductor index (.SOX) rose 1.4 percent after earlier hitting its highest level in two years.
Facebook Inc (FB.O) jumped 5.6 percent to $28.97 after posting strong mobile advertising revenue growth in the first quarter.
The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) was up 130.63 points, or 0.89 percent, at 14,831.58. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (.SPX) was up 14.87 points, or 0.94 percent, at 1,597.57. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC) was up 41.49 points, or 1.26 percent, at 3,340.62.
The S&P ended at a record level and hit a record high intraday level of 1,598.58 earlier in the session. About 74 percent of stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange closed higher while 73 percent of Nasdaq-listed shares closed up.
Visa (V.N) rose 5.6 percent to $175.40 a day after reporting strong quarterly results and growth in the key U.S. market. The stock earlier advanced to an all-time high.
General Motors (GM.N) rose 3.2 percent to $31.16 after reporting a stronger-than-expected quarterly profit as its North American business improved and its loss in Europe was smaller than Wall Street estimated.
With 76 percent of the S&P 500 having reported, 68.5 percent have topped profit expectations, more than the 67 percent average over the past four quarters. However, only 45.6 percent have topped revenue expectations, below the 52 percent beat rate over the past year.
After the market closed, American International Group Inc (AIG.N) rose 2.6 percent to $43.22 after reporting its first-quarter results, while LinkedIn Corp (LNKD.N) slumped 11 percent after its results.
Gilead Sciences (GILD.O) shares jumped 4.1 percent to $52.18 after its combination hepatitis C pill proved effective in a small trial.
Volume was light, with about 6.02 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, below the daily average so far this year of about 6.36 billion shares.
(Editing by Nick Zieminski)