Wall Street Jumps Amid Economic Optimism

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The markets posted solid gains on Thursday, boosted by much better-than-expected data on the American labor and housing markets. However, the financial sector missed out on the rally.

Today's Markets

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 84.8 points, or 0.63%, to 13596, the S&P 500 climbed 8.3 points, or 0.56%, to 1481 and the Nasdaq Composite gained 18.5 points, or 0.59%, to 3136.

The Labor Department said new claims for U.S. unemployment benefits fell to 335,000 last week -- the lowest level since January 2008 -- from an upwardly revised 372,000 the week prior. Claims were expected to fall to 365,000 from an initially reported 371,000.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said U.S. housing starts jumped 12.1% in December from November to an annualized 954,000-unit rate, the highest rate since June 2008. Permits rose 0.3% to an annualized rate of 903,000 units.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve's gauge of manufacturing activity in the mid-Atlantic region fell to -5.8 in January from 4.6 in December. The index was expected to rise to 5.8. Readings above zero point to expansion while those below indicate contraction.

Boeing (NYSE:BA), the blue-chip plane maker, has captured headlines as worries have swelled about its 787 Dreamliner aircraft. In the latest setback, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered carriers flying U.S.-registered 787s to temporarily halt using the plane until they can demonstrate the onboard batteries are safe. Shares pointed down another 2%.

Earnings season also began kicking into high gear. Ahead of the opening bell, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), UnitedHealth (NYSE:UNH) and Citigroup (NYSE:C) reported fourth-quarter earnings.

BofA, the second-biggest U.S. bank by assets, saw its net income shrink $700 billion from $2 billion the year prior. Its per-share earnings of 3 cents topped expectations by a penny, but its revenues of $19.61 billion came in shy of the $21.11 billion analysts forecast.

UnitedHealth, the biggest U.S. health insurer, said it earned $1.20 a share on revenues of $28.8 billion, topping estimates of $1.19 per share on $28.2 billion.

Citi posted an adjusted fourth-quarter profit of 69 cents per share, which was short of the 96 cents analysts forecast. Adjusted revenues of $18.7 billion also missed expectations of $18.8 billion.

Oil futures rallied after the hostage situation in Algeria prompted concerns about the security of supplies in the Middle East and North Africa. The benchmark oil contract rose $1.25, or 1.3%, to $95.49 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline climbed 1.7% to $2.768 a gallon. In metals, gold gained $7.60, or 0.45%, to $1,691 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 rose 0.43% to 2714, the English FTSE 100 climbed 0.16% to 6114 and the German DAX was flat at 7691.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 gained 0.09% to 10610 and the Chinese Hang Seng fell 0.07% to 23340.