NEW YORK, Mar.3 -- U.S. stocks closed higher Thursday on positive jobs and retail sales data.
The Labor Department reported on Thursday that the number of people requesting unemployment benefits last week fell by 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 368,000.
The reading was the third decline in the last four weeks. Applications were now at their lowest level since May 2008. The four-week average for applications dropped last week to 388,500.
Investors believed that the downward trend of job claims might hint that businesses were easing the pace of layoffs, as economy was on its way to recovery. Some investors expected that hiring will grow in the coming months.
Meanwhile, a separate report showed the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) non-manufacturing index indicated that the service sector expanded for the 15th consecutive month in February.
The index rose to 59.7 from 59.4 in the previous month, stronger than average market expectation.
Despite rising optimism offsetting high oil prices, some investors were still worried about inflation. A Federal Reserve survey released on Wednesday also hinted some inflationary concerns. Costs were rising for manufacturers and retailers in most areas. Retailers in some districts said they have or soon will raise prices.
Those concerns have been heightened by recent surging prices of corn, wheat and other commodities.
Oil prices eased moderately, but remained just above 100 dollars a barrel. Concerns over the impact of high oil prices on the U.S. economy have rattled markets over the past two weeks. Crude settled above 102 dollars on Wednesday for the first time since September 2008.
The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 191.40 points, or 1.59 percent, to 12,258.20. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 22. 53 points, or 1.72 percent, to 1,330.97. The Nasdaq gained 50.67 points, or 1.84 percent, to 2,798.74.