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Markets Finish With Fresh Record Gains on Jobs Data Positivity

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Markets were propelled higher Friday to end with fresh record gains after a fairly flat start to the week. Investor outlook was boosted by an above-average jobs report released Friday morning, while the European Central Bank's decision to cut interest rates helped to foster global market confidence.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 217,000 in May compared to the average estimate of 218,000 gleaned from a Reuters survey of economists. That's also weaker than April's figure, which was a downwardly revised 282,000. Still, the May number was slightly higher than the average gain of 197,000 over the past year and is more evidence that the economy is on the right track.

The jobless rate was unchanged at 6.3% vs. the consensus 6.4%.

While the report will likely keep the stimulus tapering process by the Federal Reserve on track, it's unlikely to alter by much the Fed's timeline for potential policy rate hikes starting mid-2015, according to Barclays economists.

The S&P 500 closed 0.46% higher to 1,949.44 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average had added 0.52% to 16,924.28. The Nasdaq was 0.59% higher to 4,321.4.

European markets were boosted by the ECB's decision Thursday. The FTSE closed 0.66% higher and the DAX added 0.4%. In Asia, the Nikkei 225 finished flat and the Hang Seng was down 0.69%, after markets closed before investors were able to digest the nonfarm payrolls report.

To individual stocks, Amazon (AMZN) is contributing to S&P 500 gains, up 1.9% to $329.67.

Gap (GPS - Get Report) was rising 2.1% after the retailer posted a 1% increase in May same-store sales, which was better than the 0.2% Wall Street target.

Walmart (WMT - Get Report), the world's largest retailer, is holding its annual shareholders' meeting on Friday. Shares were 0.14% lower to $77.21.

General Motors (GM) shares were gaining 1.6% a day after CEO Mary Barra's pledge that the automaker never will again repeat the mistakes surrounding its ignition switch problems, which led to at least 13 deaths, 47 crashes, the recall of 2.6 million cars and then to a worldwide recall of 15.8 million cars with more to come.

Bank of America (BAC) is in talks to pay at least $12 billion to settle civil probes by the Justice Department and a number of states into the bank's alleged handling of shoddy mortgages, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the negotiations. Shares added 1% on Friday.

Heavy-volume stock Rite Aid (RAD) continued a selloff on Friday, a day after dropping 8% on disappointing guidance. Shares of the third-largest U.S. drugstore chain are down 1.9% to $7.72.

Of interest in post-market trading, Jos. A Bank (JOSB) will report earnings, the first glimpse investors will have into its financials since its merger deal with Men's Wearhouse (MW) was given federal regulatory approval last week.

--Written by Keris Alison Lahiff, Andrea Tse and Joe Deaux in New York

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