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A monthly employment report that zipped past traders' expectations and other encouraging signs on the U.S. economy set off a broad buying frenzy that flung the Nasdaq to its highest level since December 2000.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 157 points, or 1.2%, to 12862, the S&P 500 gained 19.4 points, or 1.5%, to 1345 and the Nasdaq Composite rose 46 points, or 1.6%, to 2906.
The markets have had a blockbuster start to the year. The technology-heavy Nasdaq has surged 11.5%, its best start to a year since 1991. The S&P 500 has had its best opening since 1987, rallying some 6.9%. The Dow, meanwhile, is sitting at its highest level since May 2008, less than a month before the financial crisis began ravaging equity markets.
Volatility crumbled 4.6% and, in a sign of the breadth of the rally, 2 Dow components and 43 S&P members hit 52-week highs.
The U.S. economy added 243,000 jobs in January, blowing past estimates of 150,000 jobs created and marking the largest increase since April 2011. The private sector added 257,000 jobs, while the government shed 14,000, the data show.
"Job growth was widespread in the private sector, with large employment gains in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing," the Labor Department said in a statement.
The unemployment rate fell to 8.3%, the lowest rate since February 2009, from 8.5% the month prior. One potential caveat is that the so-called labor force participation rate, which looks at the proportion of the total population in the labor force, fell 0.3-percentage points to 63.7%, the lowest level since 1983, according to data compiled by FOX Business.
The change was at least partially due to a revision in the methodology the Labor Department uses in its calculations, but economists say it does raise questions about potential workers falling completely out of the jobs market.
"This is unquestionably a positive report in nearly every way," Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG, wrote in an e-mail to clients. Barclays Capital, which struck a similarly optimistic tone in a research note published after the report was released still cautioned that "January is a notoriously volatile month that is subject to relatively large seasonal adjustments."
The labor market has been slowly recovering after being thrashed during the financial crisis. The unemployment rate peaked in October 2009 at 10% and policymakers from across the board have said they are frustrated with the rate of improvement. Indeed, speaking before a the House Budget Committee on Thursday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke described the central bank's dissatisfaction with the progress. The Fed has pushed down hard on the economic accelerator, knocking interest rates down to historic lows, unleashing two rounds of enormous asset buying and taking other, more technical, measures.
"An easy argument could be made that monetary policy, which has been extraordinarily accommodative, is beginning to show through in the broad economic data," Greenhaus wrote.
In fact, fed fund futures, which are a gauge of public expectations of the Fed's moves, show a 64% chance of a 0.5-percentage point hike in mid-2014, up from a 46% chance before the data, according to Dow Jones Newswires. The Fed has previously said it will hold rates at extraordinarily low levels until 2014.
A report from the Institute for Supply Management showed the U.S. services sector expanding at the swiftest pace since last February. The ISM's non-manufacturing gauge hit 56.8 in January from 53 the month prior, easily besting estimates for no change. A separate report from the Commerce Department showed factory orders jumping 1.1% in December, slightly slower than the 1.5% economists were calling for.
Manufacturing in Great Britain unexpectedly picked up steam in January from December. The country's PMI gauge rose to 56 from 54, compared to expectations of 53.5.
The report "has buoyed hopes that the U.K. will skirt around another recession," David Jones, chief market strategist at London-based IG Index wrote in an e-mail. The European country, while not a member of the euro currency bloc, has still been weighed down by the continent's debt crisis.
The euro gained 0.15% to $1.3164, while the U.S. dollar fell 0.08% against a basket of six world currencies tracked by the dollar index.
Commodities markets were mixed. The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York rose $1.54, or 1.5%, to $97.84 a barrel. Wholesale RBOB gasoline jumped 1.6% to $2.914 a gallon.
In metals, gold fell $19.00, or 1.1%, to $1,740 a troy ounce.
European blue chips climbed 1.5%, the English FTSE 100 rose 1.8% to 5,901 and the German DAX gained 1.7% to 6,767.
In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 slipped 0.51% to 8,832 and the Chinese Hang Seng rose 0.08% to 20,757.