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(Updated with stock prices.)



) -- The bulls were at the helm Thursday with some help from initial jobless claims, retail sales and


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The Dow Jones Industrial Average

rose 61.29 points, or 0.6%, to 9786.87, while the

S&P 500

tacked on 7.9 points, or 0.8%, to 1065.48. The


added 13.6 points, or 0.6%, to 2123.93.

Commodities also advanced with crude oil adding $2.12, to $71.68 a barrel, and gold advancing $11.90, to $1,056.30 an ounce, another new closing high.

"You continue to see mutual fund money coming off the sideline and going into the market, and there's still a fair amount of hedge fund skepticism that doesn't believe the strength will continue," says Michael James, managing director at Wedbush Morgan Securities.

"Shorting stocks in almost any sector in the last few months has proven to be the wrong move -- whether there will be vindication for those skeptics, I think you have to wait until we get a fuller set of earnings," says James. "The bulls are clearly in control of the market."

Stocks found support after

Alcoa reported

a surprise profit of 4 cents a share, topping expectations for a 9-cent-a-share loss, on higher-than-expected revenue after Wednesday's close. Shares added 0.9% to $14.33.

Adding to the positive reaction to earnings, the Labor Department said

new claims

for jobless benefits fell to 521,000 last week, down from 554,000 the week prior and undercutting expectations for 540,000. Continuing claims fell unexpectedly, to 6.04 million, down from 6.11 million.

"Obviously it's the Alcoa story which is attracting investors this morning, and also a bump from unemployment claims which came in much better than we were expecting," says Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Avalon Partners. "It seems that the bulls are fully in charge, and I suspect that the trend will continue as corporate America continues to surprise the Street."


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beat estimates

early Thursday, although shares closed down 1.6%, at $60.22.

Morgan Stanley analysts predicted European banks will likely join those who top estimates with their quarterly results. The firm raised its earnings-per-share estimates and price targets for

Credit Suisse

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Deutsche Bank

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Outside of earnings, stocks got a boost from

retail sales

coming in mostly above expectations.

J.C. Penney

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posted smaller than expected declines, while



, reported a 5.3% rise in same store sales, topping the 3% percent estimate.

Stocks overseas were mostly higher. In Europe, London's FTSE 100 and the DAX in Frankfurt rose 0.9% and 0.3%, respectively. But in Asia, the Nikkei in Japan advanced 0.3%, and Hang Seng in Hong Kong added 1.2%.

-- Written by Elizabeth Trotta in New York.