The day's gains were broad, with eight of the S&P 500's ten industry sectors up on the day. The market extended its gains in afternoon trading, putting the S&P 500 about 1.3 percent away from its record close.
Equities have struggled for direction of late, with investors seeing limited upside potential in equities, but also few alternatives for yield. Many investors are looking ahead to the first-quarter earnings season for market guidance.
Earnings for S&P 500 companies are seen falling 2.8 percent in the first quarter, according to Thomson Reuters data, compared with the rise of 5.3 percent that had been forecast on Jan. 1.
The drop in profits, especially for companies with multi-national exposure, is partially attributable to strength in the U.S. dollar. However, analysts said the currency impact would not necessarily be a long-term detriment to stock prices.
"To the extent the dollar means companies are losing business, it's a problem, but if earnings are just being translated into a stronger dollar, that's less of a problem," said Jim McDonald, chief investment strategist at Northern Trust Asset Management in Chicago.
"An earnings recession is only a real problem for stocks if it is accompanied by an economic recession, which isn't the case here. We're positioned for an upside move as expectations have been lowered to the point where we're set up for a positive surprise."
Among early reporters, Alcoa Inc (>> Alcoa Inc) fell 3.3 percent to $13.22 a day after it reported revenue that missed expectations. Bed Bath & Beyond (>> Bed Bath & Beyond Inc.), which also reported weaker-than-expected results late Wednesday, fell 5.4 percent to $73.46.
The energy sector <.SPNY> climbed 1.5 percent on the back of a 1.8 percent rise in Brent crude <LCOc1>, which rebounded from a drop of 6 percent on Wednesday. Continued uncertainty about an agreement on Iran's nuclear program also provided a lift. ConocoPhillips (>> ConocoPhillips) rose 3.4 percent to $67.
In the latest economic data, jobless claims rose in the latest week, though the rise was smaller than anticipated.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 56.22 points, or 0.31 percent, to 17,958.73, the S&P 500 <.SPX> gained 9.29 points, or 0.45 percent, to 2,091.19 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 23.74 points, or 0.48 percent, to 4,974.57.
After the market closed, PriceSmart Inc (>> PriceSmart, Inc.) fell 2.6 percent to $83 after it reported it second-quarter results, while Medicines Co (>> The Medicines Company) sank 8.3 percent to $25.50 after giving a first-quarter revenue outlook.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,513 to 1,506, for a 1.00-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,393 issues fell and 1,314 advanced for a 1.06-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.
The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting 13 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 76 new highs and 29 new lows.
About 6.07 billion shares traded on all U.S. platforms, according to BATS exchange data, below the month-to-date average of 6.25 billion.
(Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)
By Ryan Vlastelica