NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks scored a second day of solid gains on Thursday, led by materials and energy stocks, as investors set aside weak figures on the domestic labor market.
Rumors about strong growth figures due overnight from China helped wash away some of the worries that hit stocks during a five-day streak of losses that ended with Wednesday's rebound.
Basic materials shares led gains as commodity prices advanced. The S&P materials sector index jumped 2.8 percent. U.S. Steel gained 7.5 percent to $29.36. Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold rose 5.9 percent to $37.89 and an index of gold and silver miners' shares rose 3.7 percent.
"Growth in China is critical to the global recovery, and now it seems like the slowdown won't be as dramatic as initially feared," said Richard Weiss, a Mountain View, California-based senior money manager at American Century Investments, which has about $120 billion in assets under management.
The rebound pushed the S&P 500 back above its 50-day moving average, a sign that traders may see the recent pullback of more than 4 percent as an opportunity to catch up with the benchmark's gains. The index is up more than 10 percent in 2012.
Concerns about the euro-zone's debt crisis were eased by lower Italian bond yields.
Benchmark bond yields in Italy and Spain dropped following solid demand at this week's Italian debt auctions, while the euro hit a one-week high against the U.S. dollar, indicating a reduction in near-term concern about the euro zone's debt troubles.
In a sign that the U.S. labor market's recovery may be stalling, government data showed new U.S. claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly last week to their highest level since late January. But some economists cited the Easter holidays for the spike in claims, adding that they expected applications will keep declining in the weeks ahead.
Google Inc shares rose 1 percent to $657.67 in extended trading after the company reported its quarterly results and announced a proposal to effectively implement a 2-for-1 stock split.
The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 181.19 points, or 1.41 percent, to end at 12,986.58. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 18.86 points, or 1.38 percent, to 1,387.57. The Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 39.09 points, or 1.30 percent, to 3,055.55.
After the bell, shares of Dow Chemical Co rose 1.8 percent to $33.25 after the company boosted its quarterly dividend by 28 percent and forecast earnings growth for the foreseeable future.
Early into earnings season, results are beating Wall Street's expectations at a fast clip. Analysts say the expectations could have been lowered too much and stocks can seem cheap after the S&P's recent pullback of over 4 percent.
"Earnings so far have been better than expected, and that reinforces the view that forecasts had gotten too pessimistic," said David Joy, chief market strategist at Ameriprise Financial in Boston, where he helps oversee $571 billion in assets under management.
"We have a pretty good track record going, though it's still early in the season. Expectations had been revised significantly lower, but now they're stabilizing, and I think there's a chance we could exceed them."
The KBW bank index jumped 2 percent during Thursday's regular session, a day ahead of earnings due from JP Morgan Chase & Co and Wells Fargo & Co JP Morgan's stock climbed 1.9 percent to $44.84, while Wells Fargo's shares added 1.2 percent to $34.02.
Shares of tech bellwether Hewlett-Packard Co surged 7.2 percent to $25.09 as first-quarter personal computer shipments unexpectedly rose, according to research firm Gartner.
The U.S. Federal Reserve is running through data to determine if last month's soft non-farm payrolls report was a weather-related setback or a sign the recovery is losing momentum, said William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Dudley left the door open to additional stimulus measures if the economic recovery gets off track. Previous rounds of quantitative easing have given a boost to equities and other risk assets.
Almost four-fifths of companies traded on the New York Stock Exchange closed higher while 71 percent of Nasdaq-listed shares ended in positive territory.
Volume was light, with about 6.14 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, below last year's daily average of 7.84 billion.
(Editing by Jan Paschal)