Stocks recovered the previous day's losses to close higher on Thursday, with the S&P 500 regaining its footing above 1,750, as Wall Street cheered a handful of upbeat earnings and encouraging economic data from China.
The Dow and S&P 500 are on track for their third-straight winning week.
"Keep in mind this is the kind of market where buying begets buying and selling begets selling," wrote Elliot Spar, market strategist at Stifel Nicolaus. "It's all part of the momentum game. It could get exacerbated to the downside by those money managers that don't want to ruin a great year in the last two months."
The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 95 points, boosted by Visa and Home Depot. The blue-chip index is within 1.5 percent from hitting its record high. The Dow has flip-flopped between gains and losses for nine-consecutive sessions.
The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also ended near session highs. For the year, the S&P 500 is up 20 percent. Meanwhile, the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, was parked in a range for most of the session near 13.
Among key S&P sectors, consumer discretionary led the gainers, while telecoms sagged.
"Our assumption is 5 to 6 percent earnings growth this year, next year and probably 2015," said Scott Wren, senior equity strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors. "The economy has been in a very modest growth, modest inflation environment for a while and it's not going to change…but valuations are still reasonable and they're still below historical average."
While Wren believes the market gains are set for the year at around 1,650 to 1,700 on the S&P 500, he sees the index rising to between 1,850 and 1,900 by the end of 2014.
On the economic front, weekly jobless claims declined 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000, according to the Labor Department. Economists polled by Reuters had expected first-time applications to fall to 340,000 last week. Meanwhile, ongoing computer issues in California lingered, distorting the weekly reports since September.
The U.S. trade deficit widened slightly by 0.4 percent to $38.9 billion in August as exports slipped, according to the Commerce Department. Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected a reading of $39.5 billion.
"The market seems to want numbers that aren't bad but aren't good—somewhere in the middle," said Jim Iuorio, director at TJM Institutional Services. "What the market would really love is numbers that continue to give us a lack of clarity because if the Fed doesn't have clarity, they're certainly not going to talk about taper," he said in reference to the Federal Reserve's stimulus program of bond buying, which has buoyed markets in recent months.
Apple stocks rose after billionaire Carl Icahn asked the tech giant to commence an immediate tender offer of $150 billion. Icahn now owns roughly 4.7 million shares of Apple, up from 4 million shares.
Among earnings, Ford rallied after the automaker beat earnings estimates and raised its guidance for the full year. Rival General Motors also traded higher and 3M ticked higher after the conglomerate topped earnings and revenue estimates.
Symantec plunged more than 10 percent to lead the S&P 500 laggards after the software maker posted lower-than-expected sales and forecast current-quarter results below estimates, due to low demand for storage and security products.
In Asia, HSBC's flash PMI for China suggested its manufacturing sector increased this month, due to a strong rise in new orders. This was the latest piece of positive data to emerge from the world's second-largest economy, following last week's upbeat third-quarter GDP report. Despite the good news, the Shanghai Composite hit a one-month low, weighed down by fears of a repeat of June's cash crunch.
Meanwhile, Markit's flash PMI for the euro zone indicated that growth in business activity in the region unexpectedly slowed in October, raising questions about the strength of its economic recovery.