The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 16 points, or 0.1 percent, to 14,840, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) gained 3 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,638 and the Nasdaq composite index (^IXIC) gained a comparatively robust 26 points, or 0.8 percent, to 3,620.
Traders focused on economic data that came out early Thursday. The U.S. economy grew at a 2.5 percent annual rate from April through June, much faster than previously estimated, the government said. The figure was revised up from 1.7 percent as more U.S. companies exported goods and imports declined.
Also, the Labor Department said the number of people who filed for unemployment benefits last week fell to 331,000, around its lowest level in the past five years. While lower unemployment claims and an upward revision on GDP are both positive signs, most of Wall Street's attention is focused on next week, when the August jobs report will be released.
The Federal Reserve is expected to decide in mid-September on the fate of its massive bond-buying program, and the jobs survey will be the last bit of significant economic data the Fed will have to consider before making its decision.
Traders also continue to watch Syria, where a U.S-led strike could happen in the coming days. Investors worry that could lead to a regional conflict in an area where much of the world's oil reserves are situated.
The price of benchmark U.S. crude oil fell $1.37 to $108.71 a barrel. Oil had climbed as high as $112 earlier this week.
In company news, Merrill Lynch has agreed to make sweeping changes that "may well change the landscape of Wall Street," its attorneys said in court filings -- part of its $160 million proposed discrimination settlement with black financial advisers. Documents filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago come days after attorneys for some 1,200 plaintiffs alleged racial bias by the firm announced a deal, which, if approved by a judge, would be one of the largest ever in a discrimination suit. Among a long list of measures, Merrill Lynch, owned by Bank of America (BAC), will create a "leadership council" to recommend ways to improve opportunities for African Americans.
U.S.-listed shares of Vodafone Group (VOD) jumped 8.2 percent to $31.81 as the biggest percentage gainer on the Nasdaq 100 index, after the company said it was in talks with Verizon Communications (VZ) to sell its 45 percent stake in their U.S. joint venture, Verizon Wireless. Verizon shares rose 1.3 percent to $47.82, making it one of the day's top boosters of the Dow. More Stocks in the News:
- Campbell Soup (CPB) fell 1.4 percent to $43.33 after posting weak numbers for its fiscal fourth quarter. The company's results were dragged down by a charge related to the potential sale of a European business. While sales results topped Wall Street estimates, revenue missed expectations.
- Moody's lowered its rating on Altera (ALTR) after the chip-maker Wednesday raised its buyback authorization to 13 percent of its shares outstanding. Shares of the San Jose, Calif., company rose 2.6 percent to $35.69.
- Guess (GES) shares leaped almost 13 percent to $30.82 in the wake of second-quarter results that beat Wall Street estimates, bucking a trend of falling sales for apparel retailers.
- Shares of Halliburton (HAL) fell 0.4 percent to $48.54, after the energy giant said it will pay $3.3 billion to buy back about 68 million shares of its common stock, or about 7.4 percent of its outstanding shares. The purchase amount, which equals $48.50 a share, excludes fees and expenses related to its recent "Dutch auction" tender offer, which expired a week ago.
- US Airways Group (LCC), American Airlines and the Justice Department said Wednesday they were open to settling a legal fight over whether the two companies should be allowed to merge. US Airways shares rose 4 percent to $15.96.
- The Commerce Department releases personal income and spending for July at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
- The Institute For Supply Management-Chicago releases its survey of business activity in the Chicago region at 9:45 a.m.
- The University of Michigan releases its final survey of consumer sentiment for August at 10 a.m.
- Big Lots (BIG) is scheduled to release quarterly corporate earnings.