NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Stocks closed higher Thursday for the fourth time in five sessions Thursday as investors welcomed strong reads on the economy. Friday's market will take its cue from the October jobs report, due before the start of trade.
As of 6:00 p.m. ET, Nasdaq and S&P futures point to a modestly higher open for stocks Friday, when fair value is taken into account.
The Dow Jones industrial average (up 49.86 to 10,522.59, Charts) rose nearly 0.5 percent and the S&P 500 (up 5.18 to 1,219.94, Charts) index added about 0.4 percent. The Nasdaq composite (up 15.91 to 2,160.22, Charts) gained 0.7 percent.
All three indexes had posted bigger gains earlier in the session, before oil prices spiked more than three percent.
Among the day's big movers, Dow component Merck (up $1.13 to $29.54, Research) jumped nearly 4 percent after the drugmaker was found not liable by a New Jersey jury in the second lawsuit over its withdrawn painkiller Vioxx. Shares of rival Pfizer (up $0.27 to $21.87, Research) got a boost as well, rising about 1.25 percent on the news.
Increased optimism about the economy also gave shares a boost after a strong read on productivity, some upbeat retail sales and comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
"Between the mostly better-than-expected retail sales numbers, Greenspan talking and the morning's economic numbers, the market has found some reasons to rise today," said Todd Salamone, director of trading at Schaeffer's Investment Research."
Salamone noted that the technical trend for the short term seems to be up, after the market bottomed in mid-October.
The buying momentum appeared to be sufficient to withstand a run up in energy prices. U.S. light, sweet crude oil for December delivery gained $2.03 to settle at $61.78 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
After the close Thursday, Oracle (Research) announced that it's chief financial officer would leave after just five months with the company. Shares were little changed in extended-hours trade.
Friday brings the October jobs report. Employers are expected to have added 100,000 to their payrolls in October, according to a consensus of economists surveyed by Briefing.com. The economy lost 35,000 jobs in September in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a number that is expected to be revised.
The unemployment report, generated by a separate survey, is expected to have held steady at 5.1 percent.
Hourly earnings, the report's inflation component, are expected to have risen 0.2 percent after rising 0.2 percent last month.
The rise in the price of oil spread to oil stocks.
Exxon Mobil (up $1.19 to $58.57, Research) added two percent and the Amex Oil index gained 1.7 percent.
In addition to Exxon and Merck, other Dow 30 gainers included IBM (up $1.81 to $82.87, Research), Intel (up $0.60 to $23.89, Research) and McDonald's (up $0.97 to $33.23, Research).
The influential chip sector rose. All but one of the 19 components of the Philadelphia semiconductor (up 6.83 to 448.05, Charts) index, or the SOX, gained, including Intel (up $0.60 to $23.89, Research), which jumped over 2 percent.
Qualcomm (up $3.64 to $44.02, Research) gained 9 percent after the wireless technology company said fourth-quarter profits rose 37 percent and raised its sales outlook for the current quarter.
Priceline.com (up $5.10 to $24.60, Research) jumped more than 26 percent after the online travel agency reported higher third-quarter earnings late Wednesday that topped estimates.
Biotechs Amgen (up $3.61 to $77.51, Research) and Abgenix (up $3.53 to $12.90, Research) both gained after announcing that their experimental colon cancer therapy -- a potential rival to ImClone's Erbitux -- showed positive results in a late-stage trial.
ImClone (down $7.46 to $28.65, Research) sunk 20.7 percent on the news.
A number of retailers reported solid gains in October same-store sales, or sales at stores open a year or more.
Wal-Mart Stores (up $0.02 to $47.58, Research) said same-store sales rose 4.3 percent in the month, meeting its recently raised forecast. Shares were little changed.
Nordstrom (up $0.85 to $36.60, Research) said same-store sales rose 6.4 percent in the month, sending its shares up 2.4 percent.
Market breadth was positive and volume was robust. On the New York Stock Exchange, winners narrowly edged out losers on volume of 1.99 billion shares. On the Nasdaq, advancers topped decliners eight to seven on volume of 2.35 billion shares.
Third-quarter business productivity grew at a 4.1 percent annualized rate in the third quarter, the Labor Department said early Thursday, versus an upwardly revised 2.1 percent annualized rate in the second quarter. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com thought it would grow at a 2.5 percent rate. (For more on what that means for the Fed and interest rate, click here).
Additionally, Fed Chairman Greenspan -- speaking before Congress Thursday morning -- said that the economy remains strong and the impact from the slew of terrible hurricanes should be felt only temporarily. He also cautioned about the threat of higher inflation, essentially reiterating the central bank's message on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the central bank boosted the Fed funds rate, a key short-term lending rate, by a quarter-percentage point to 4 percent, the 12th rate hike in a row.
In other economic news, September factory orders slipped a larger-than-expected 1.7 percent in September, the government said, in a report released shortly after the start of trade. Orders rose 2.5 percent last month.
And the Institute for Supply Management's services index rose to 60.0 in October from 53.3 in September, beating Wall Street's median forecast for a rise to 57.0.
Treasury prices slipped, raising the yield on the 10-year note to 4.65 percent from 4.60 percent late Wednesday. Treasury prices and yields move in opposite directions.
The dollar gained versus the euro and yen.
COMEX gold fell $2.70 to settle at $461.90 an ounce.