NEW YORK - Earnings gains at major U.S. companies and encouraging economic news pushed U.S. stocks to record levels Thursday.
A drop in claims for unemployment benefits signaled a healthier economy and encouraged investors to buy stocks. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said manufacturing in its region grew at the fastest pace in more than two years this month.
Among companies reporting second-quarter earnings, Morgan Stanley was one of the standouts, rising $1.16, or 4.4 percent, to $27.70. The New York bank reported sharply higher earnings driven by investment banking gains and said it planned to spend $500 million buying back its own stock. IBM rose $3.44, or 1.8 percent, to $197.99 after its profit beat analysts' forecasts as software sales grew.
Energy companies rose after the price of oil shot up to a 16-month high on signs that the economy is improving.
Technology stocks lagged the market after lackluster results from eBay and Intel. Industry bellwethers Google and Microsoft both plunged 5 percent in post-market trading after reporting disappointing earnings after the close.
The stock market is back at record levels after pulling back in June amid concerns that the Fed was poised to reduce its stimulus program. The S&P 500 has gained 5.2 percent this month and is up 18.5 percent for the year, putting it on track to log its best annual performance since 2009, when it rose 23.5 percent.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee Wednesday that there was no "preset course" for ending the stimulus and that any change would depend on how well the economy is doing. Bernanke repeated the comments to the Senate Banking Committee Thursday.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 8.46 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,689.37. The index has gained for 10 of the last 11 days.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 78.02 points, or 0.5 percent, to 15,548.54. The Dow's gains were led by IBM and UnitedHealth Group, which reported better earnings than Wall Street analysts were expecting.
The Nasdaq composite edged up 1.28 points, just 0.04 percent, to 3,611.28. The Nasdaq was held back by weak earnings reports from several major technology companies. The weak results are in line with what's expected to be a weak second-quarter earnings season for the U.S. technology industry.