The Dow Jones industrials rose back above 9,000 for the first time since early January.
Investors snapped up a broad range of stocks Thursday, sending major indexes up more than 2 percent, after existing home sales jumped for the third straight month in June.
The 3.6 percent increase in home sales has investors excited that the hard-hit housing market might be improving. The National Association of Realtors said sales came in at 4.89 million, above the 4.84 million analysts had been expecting.
Another batch of corporate profit reports also helped boost the market's mood. Stronger-than-expected earnings and more optimistic forecasts have pushed stocks up more than 8 percent in less than two weeks. The jump has restarted a rally that began in early March, lifting the Dow and other market barometers up from 12-year lows.
Ford Motor Co. surprised the market with a second-quarter profit of $2.3 billion due mainly to a huge gain for debt reduction, while cigarette maker Philip Morris International Inc. and candy maker Hershey Co. raised their profit forecasts for the year.
John Merrill, chief investment officer of Tanglewood Wealth Management in Houston, said forecasts are crucial because companies have done well to cut costs during the recession, but investors will be looking for increased revenue to add to earnings.
"If the outlook is at all positive, it means revenue will increase," Merrill said. With costs already trimmed, revenue will quickly boost profits, he said. It would also indicate economic activity is strengthening.
After a month of wayward trading, stocks began climbing again at the start of last week as companies like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Intel Corp. posted solid earnings.
"Things are getting much better and the market is pricing it in," said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors.
In midafternoon trading, the Dow rose 177.97, or 2 percent, to 9,059.23. The blue chips last traded and closed above 9,000 on Jan. 6. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 21.97, or 2.3 percent, to 976.04. It hasn't traded or closed above 1,000 since early November.
The Nasdaq composite index rose 47.04, or 2.4 percent, to 1,973.42, its 12th straight advance.
About seven stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 679 million shares, compared with 579.5 million traded at the same point Wednesday.
Bond prices tumbled, pushing their yields higher, as money flowed back into the stock market and out of safe-haven investments. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which is closely tied to home mortgage rates, jumped to 3.69 percent from 3.55 percent late Wednesday.
Investors looked past a bigger-than-expected rise in weekly unemployment claims. The Labor Department said the number of new claims for unemployment benefits rose by 30,000 last week to 554,000, slightly above analysts' estimates. However, a Labor Department analyst said the report was distorted by the timing of auto plant shutdowns. And total unemployment benefit rolls fell to the lowest level since mid-April.
In downturns in the past 60 years, the S&P 500 index has hit bottom an average of four months before a recession ended and about nine months before unemployment reached its peak.
A flurry of dealmaking also supported stocks. Investors look to companies' willingness to make acquisitions — and part with cash or take on debt — as a sign of confidence.
Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said it plans to acquire Medarex Inc. for about $2.1 billion, the latest in a string of acquisitions by the drug maker. Medarex surged $7.46, or 89 percent, to $15.86, while Bristol-Myers rose 62 cents, or 3 percent, to $20.90.
Amazon.com Inc. agreed to buy Zappos.com Inc., a privately held online shoe store, in a deal worth about $850 million. Amazon rose $5.19, or 5.9 percent, to $93.98.
Ford's profit was a huge improvement over the record $8.7 billion loss the company reported the same quarter a year earlier. Without one-time gains, the car maker would have lost $424 million, or 21 cents per share. That is still smaller than the loss of 50 cents per share analysts had been expecting. Ford rose 55 cents, or 8.6 percent, to $6.92.
Philip Morris said earnings fell 9 percent as the stronger dollar shrank profit earned in other currencies. The stock jumped $2.56, or 5.8 percent, to $46.44.
And Hershey said its quarterly profit leapt 72 percent thanks to a price hike and a new advertising effort. The shares rose $2.76, or 7.1 percent, to $41.71.
The dollar mostly fell against other major currencies, while gold prices dipped.
Oil prices rose $1.77 to $67.17 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gained 17.86, or 3.4 percent, to 546.58.
The gains in U.S. stocks pushed markets overseas to sharp gains. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 1.5 percent, while Germany's DAX index jumped 2.5 percent and France's CAC-40 rose 2.1 percent. In Japan, where markets closed before U.S. stocks began trading, the Nikkei stock average rose 0.7 percent.
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