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Before trading began, the government said applications for unemployment benefits fell 9,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 363,000, a level consistent with modest hiring. Separately, payroll provider ADP said businesses added 158,000 jobs in October, more than economists had expected.
Another major piece of economic news comes out at 8:30 a.m. Friday, the Labor Department's October jobs report. That report will be watched closely by traders to see how well the U.S. economy is recovering. If the number is especially good or bad, it also could influence the outcome of next week's presidential election.
It was the second day of trading after Superstorm Sandy ravaged New York and forced markets to close on Monday and Tuesday. Companies that had postponed earnings announcements rushed to release their results.
Thursday's upswing started with strong sales results from retailers and automakers. Chrysler had its best October in five years, with sales rising 10 percent, despite the three-day disruption caused by the storm.
Exxon Mobil beat the financial expectations of analysts surveyed by FactSet, but reported lower production of oil and gas. Its stock rose 43 cents to $91.60.
Kellogg Co.'s net income edged up in the third quarter as its acquisition of Pringles chips earlier this year paid off. Kellogg leapt $1.18, or 2.3 percent, to $53.50.
Pfizer said its third-quarter profit fell 14 percent on plunging sales, mainly due to new competition from generic forms of Lipitor, long the world's top-selling drug. Pfizer fell 32 cents to $24.55.
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