Michael Strauss, chief economist and market strategist at Commonfund, said some traders had been expecting an increase in weekly unemployment claims because of planned shutdowns among the nation's automakers.
Ford Motor rose 20 cents, or 4%, to $5.16 after its chief executive, Alan Mulally, said at the company's annual meeting the automaker is slashing costs and boosting development of safe, fuel-efficient vehicles. Shareholders approved the company's request to issue stock to help pay some of its health care obligations to retired autoworkers.
In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 8.89, or 1.9%, to 480.71.
Bond prices were mixed after rising a day earlier. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, a widely used benchmark for loans including home mortgages, fell to 3.09% from 3.12% late Wednesday.
The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.
Light, sweet crude rose 60 cents to settle at $58.62 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Overseas, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.7%, Germany's DAX index advanced 0.2%, and France's CAC-40 rose 0.1%. Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 2.6%.