Stocks Rise Amid Economic Optimism

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The markets edged up on Thursday as traders grew more optimistic about the world economy and global central banks held steady on monetary policy.

Today's Markets

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 6.6 points, or 0.04%, to 14937, the S&P 500 climbed 2 points, or 0.12%, to 1655 and the Nasdaq Composite advanced 9.7 points, or 0.27%, to 3659.

The markets posted a strong performance on Wednesday as traders cheered a round of upbeat auto sales and a rosy economic analysis from the Federal Reserve. Attention was expected to remain on the world economy on Thursday, with traders eyeing two central bank decisions and a slew of economic data.

The European Central Bank held its main refinancing rate at 0.5% -- a record low – as expected. Similarly, the Bank of England held its benchmark interest rate at 0.5% and the size of its quantitative easing program steady at 375 billion pounds.  Both banks have been trying to catalyze the burgeoning recovery taking place across the continent, while also keeping price pressures in check. Analysts generally expect the Federal Reserve to begin cutting back its bond-buying program later this month as the world's biggest economy recovers.

The private sector added 176,000 jobs in August, according to a report from payroll processor ADP. The number missed expectations of 180,000. The Labor Department said the number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits fell to 323,000 last week from an upwardly revised 332,000 the week prior. Economists expected claims to fall to 330,000 from an initially reported 331,000.

Meanwhile, the number of planned layoffs by U.S. employers jumped 33.8% in August from July to 50,462, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. It was the highest level since February.

All three reports come ahead of the all-important monthly jobs report from the Labor Department due out on Friday. The report is taking on additional significance since the Fed has tied its monetary policy to fluctuations in the unemployment rate and inflation. With inflation mostly tame, the jobs market has been the central bank's main focus.

Also on the economic front, the Institute for Supply Management’s gauge of non-manufacturing activity in August came in at 58.6 from 56 the month prior. Economists expected a reading of 55. The new orders component was the highest since February 2011.

Elsewhere, U.S. crude oil futures rose 57 cents, or 0.53%, to $107.80 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline dipped 0.17% to $2.859 a gallon. In metals, gold climbed $5.20, or 0.37%, to $1,395 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 climbed 0.27% to 2765, the English FTSE 100 gained 0.41% to 6501 and the German DAX rose 0.18% to 8210.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 edged up 0.08% to 14064 and the Chinese Hang Seng rallied 1.2% to 2258.