U.S. stocks closed with strong gains, boosted by robust data on jobless claims, monthly retail and auto sales. S&P 500 Index gained 0.62 percent to finish at 1,374.09. The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 0.22 percent to end at 12,980.30. The Nasdaq Composite Index closed at 2,988.97, up 0.74 percent.
On the economic front, a government data showed that jobless claims fell 2,000 to 351,000 last week from a revised 353,000 in the prior period, while economists projected claims to remain unchanged at 353,000. The weekly claims dropped to its lowest level in nearly four years.
The robust jobless claims data has shrugged off some other weak economic numbers. Consumer spending increased 0.2 percent in January, yet coming in below expectations of a 0.4 percent rise. Personal income dropped to 0.3 percent from 0.5 percent in December, also trailing economists' forecasts of a 0.6 percent increase. A report from the Institute for Supply Management showed purchasing manager index fell to 52.4 last month from 54.1 in January, below expectations of an increase to 54.9.
Hot Stocks Of The Day: (GM, F, GPS, KR, PEGA)
In corporate news, General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM) reported a 1.1 percent increase in February sales helped by new Chevrolet model sales and stronger economy. Total sales for the month of February were 209,306 vehicles. Sales from Chevrolet increased 5.8% to 151,197 vehicles. Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F) posted a 14.4 percent growth in February U.S. sales, helped by strong demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles in the second half of the month. Total vehicles for the month of February grew to 179,119 units from 156,626 units. Both Ford and GM gained 2.26 percent and 1.73 percent respectively.
Retailers reported better-than-forecast same-store sales for the month of February. Gap (NYSE: GPS) rallied 7.2 percent, after it posted monthly same-store sales growth of 4 percent. Buckle (NYSE: BKE) gained 6.8 percent and Zumiez (NASDAQ: ZUMZ) rose 4.4 percent after strong monthly sales.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc.