NEW YORK – Stocks advanced on Thursday, putting the S&P 500 on track to rebound from its worst five-day performance in five months, on optimism the economies of both the U.S. and China may be recovering.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said China's factory output should grow faster in the last three months of 2012 than in the third quarter, raising hopes the world's second largest economy may avoid a hard landing to its slowdown.
Data showed the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell by 23,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 369,000, in a clearer sign the labor market is healing after wild fluctuations in claims data earlier in the month.
Separately, a gauge of planned U.S. business spending was flat in September, a sign that heightened uncertainty is weighing on factories, but new orders for long-lasting manufactured goods increased during the month.
The benchmark S&P index had shed 3.6 percent over the prior five sessions, its worst performance since mid-May, and is down 3.4 percent from its closing high of September 14, amid weak earnings outlooks and top-line revenue misses by large multinational companies.
"The selloff has been about earnings, the next couple of weeks are still going to be about earnings and there is some concern about revenue - the first thing you have to do is stop going down so maybe that is what we've done right here today," said Frank Lesh, a futures analyst and broker at FuturePath Trading LLC in Chicago.
"The data is good, it's definitely looking the right way and any news out of China helps too. They are a concern so any news that they are looking better is good for us, too."
Procter & Gamble Co jumped 3.6 percent to $70.55 as the top boost to the Dow after it reported a quarterly profit and maintained its key earnings forecast for the year as the world's largest household products maker cut costs and narrowed its focus on key markets, products and countries.
A total of 56 S&P 500 companies are due to report earnings on Thursday, according to Thomson Reuters data, including Apple, Amazon and Eastman Chemical Co.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 61.24 points, or 0.47 percent, to 13,138.58. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 7.66 points, or 0.54 percent, to 1,416.41. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 13.51 points, or 0.45 percent, to 2,995.21.
With results in from 186 of the S&P 500 companies, 59.1 percent have beat analysts' expectations, below the 62 percent long-term average, according to Thomson Reuters data through Wednesday.
Revenue figures have been more disappointing, with just 38.2 percent of companies exceeding analysts' expectations, while 61.8 percent have fallen short. In a typical quarter, 62 percent of companies beat estimates.
The National Association of Realtors said its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in September, gained 0.3 percent to 99.5, below expectations for a 2.1 percent rise, but the data indicated an improving tone in the housing market.
Dunkin Brands Group Inc gained 3.1 percent to $31.76; the company reported third-quarter profit that beat analysts' expectations and boosted its full-year outlook.
PSSI World Medical Inc jumped 32.3 percent to $28.58 after McKesson Corp said it would acquire the company for $29 a share, or $1.46 billion. McKesson shares advanced 3.6 percent to $92.77 and the PHLX medical device sector climbed 2.9 percent.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)