By CHRISTINA REXRODEAP Business Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - Stocks rose on Wall Street Thursday morning, sending the Standard & Poor's 500 index above 1,700 points for the first time.
The S&P 500, which investors follow closely as a gauge for the rest of the market, was up 17 points at noon Eastern Daylight Times, or 1 percent, at 1,702.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 121 points, or 0.8 percent, to 15,621. The Dow is also at a record high. The Nasdaq composite index rose 38 points, or 1 percent, to 3,665.
All 10 industry sectors in the S&P 500 index rose, led by banks and industrial stocks.
There were several driving forces for the market's advance. A jump in a key gauge of China business sentiment helped push up Asian markets overnight. Then, an hour before the U.S. stock market opened, the Labor Department said the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped last week to the lowest since 2008, another positive sign for the U.S. jobs market. Earnings gains at several U.S. companies also helped drive the stock market higher.
Investors know that employment figures that track just a week are volatile, but it was still a surprisingly strong number. Economists are likely rethinking their estimates on July job growth, numbers that the government will release Friday.
The S&P 500 has never closed above 1,700, nor has it crossed that mark in intraday trading. Previously, its highest close was 1,695.52 on July 22.
The market gains don't mean that investors think the economy is healed. Rather, they think it's better than it was, and that's been enough to push stocks higher.
For example, earnings of S&P 500 companies are up 4.8 percent this quarter, and revenue is down 0.5 percent, according to S&P Capital IQ. In previous eras, that hardly would have been considered stellar growth. Earnings rose 9 percent, and revenue 6 percent, in the second quarter of 2007, before the financial crisis imploded.
"They're not great numbers, but they're positive and they're continuing to grow," said Tim Courtney, chief investment officer of Exencial Wealth Advisors in Oklahoma City. "That's about all the market needs to hear."
Several U.S. companies were up after reporting earnings gains late Wednesday or early Thursday.
CBS rose $2.10, or 4 percent, to $54.91 after reporting an 11 percent jump in income after the market closed Wednesday, beating analysts' estimates. CBS is making more money licensing its shows to online streaming providers such as Netflix and from increasing the fees it receives from cable and satellite TV distributors to retransmit its programming.
Allstate rose $1.30, or 2.6 percent, to $52.28 after the insurer reported higher profits in the second quarter, benefiting from higher revenue and lower catastrophe-related losses.
The S&P 500 has made the jump from 1,600 to 1,700 in less than three months. The index first traded above 1,600 May 3. The previous 100-point gain took much longer to achieve. The index first closed above 1,500 more than a decade ago, toward the end of the dot-com bubble in March 2000.
The index then lost almost half of its value over the next two years before rebounding in the four-year bull run that preceded the financial crisis. That rally ended in October 2007 when the S&P 500 was just short of the 1,600 level. Stocks then slumped and the S&P 500 fell as low 676.53 in March 2009 before commencing its current bull run.
Courtney said that S&P milestone hardly represented a new era for the market. Since 1950, the S&P 500 has hit a new high about 7 percent of the time, or an average of about every 15 days, he said.
The market's advance on Thursday was a contrast from the lethargy of the past few days. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the S&P 500 moved less than a point each day. On Tuesday, it was because investors didn't want to make a move before the Federal Reserve's policy announcement scheduled for the next day.
On Wednesday, it was because the Fed didn't make much of a move: It said, unsurprisingly, that the U.S. economy was recovering but still needed help, and didn't give any indication of when it might cut back on its bond-buying program, which has been supporting financial markets and keeping borrowing costs ultra-low.
The price of crude oil rose $2.40, or 2.3 percent, to $107.43 a barrel. Gold slipped $1.80 to $1,311 an ounce. The dollar rose against the euro and the Japanese yen.
In U.S. government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.69 percent from 2.58 percent late Wednesday.
Among stocks making big moves:
-Yelp soared 23 percent, up $9.37 to $51.17. The review website continued to lose money, but it sold more ads and drew more visitors.
-Dell rose 24 cents, or 2 percent, to $12.90. Its shareholders are scheduled to vote Friday on an offer by CEO and founder Michael Dell to buy the company.
-Exxon Mobil fell $1.65, or 2 percent, to $92.08 after reporting lower earnings as oil and gas production slipped. Profit margins on refining oil also fell.
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