The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) jumped 92 points, the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) gained 29 and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) rose 11 -- closing just 9 points shy of the all-time high set at the very end of last year.
Facebook (FB) gained more than 2 percent and its $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp, a popular messaging service, set a positive tone. Facebook has had a good track record on acquisitions, and if it's willing to spend that much, investors believe there's still value to be found in this market.
BlackBerry (BBRY) rose 3.5 percent. The value of its messaging service jumps because of the Facebook deal.
Verizon Communications (VZ) led the telecom sector, gaining 3.5 percent, while Vodafone (VOD) rose nearly 4 percent and Sprint (S) more than 1 percent.
A long list of blue chips added more than 1 percent, including Boeing (BA), Caterpillar (CAT), Exxon Mobile (XOM), Chevron (CVX) and Home Depot (HD).
But Walmart Stores (WMT) bucked the trend, falling nearly 2 percent. Earnings came in about as expected, but sales were weak and the company warned that "economic factors" would weigh on sales this year.
Another big retail loser today was the specialty chain Conn's (CONN), down 43 percent. It also issued a weak outlook, prompting Oppenheimer (OPY) to downgrade the stock. Over the past three months, Conn's stock has lost nearly half of its value.
Elsewhere, Tesla Motors (TSLA) raced ahead by 8.5 percent. It raised its production and delivery targets, issued an upbeat outlook, and said sales in China are very strong.
Car-rental company Avis Budget Group (CAR) gained 9 percent on solid earnings.
PepsiCo (PEP) gained 1.5 percent as an activist investor renewed his push for the company to spin off its beverage operations.
Raptor Pharmaceutical (RPTP) jumped 14 percent after reporting positive clinical results for its treatment of Huntington's disease. But Onconova Therapeutics (ONTX) plunged 36 percent as a key late stage trial failed to meet its goal.
-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.
What to Watch Friday:
- The National Association of Realtors releases existing home sales data for January at 10 a.m. Eastern time.