NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Heading into the final hour of trading, the S&P 500 briefly flirted with 2,000, underscoring a recovery in stock markets at the end of October, as economic data indicate the U.S. economy is performing strongly.
The Conference Board said on Thursday gross domestic product rose 3.5% in the third quarter, exceeding expectations. Meanwhile, Visa (V) - Get Report and MasterCard (MA) - Get Report pushed the S&P 500 and Dow higher, after both payments processors reported better than forecast third quarter earnings, which reflected consumers rising use of credit and debit cards.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1.08% in afternoon trading on Thursday, while the S&P 500 was up by 0.35% and the the Nasdaq turned higher for the day, rising 0.55%.
Watch the video below for a closer look at how U.S. markets are doing in midday trading Thursday:
GDP growth in the U.S. hit its strongest six-month pace since the financial crisis, while the four-week average of initial jobless claims in October was the lowest in a decade. U.S. gross domestic product grew 3.5% in the third quarter, beating economists' estimates. GDP was forecast to rise just 3% this quarter after a 4.6% increase in the second quarter.
"Headline growth was stronger than expected in the third quarter of the year, raising expectations for continued momentum in the final, fourth quarter of 2014 and beyond," said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Sterne Agee. "Momentum, however, will come from organic job and income growth spurring increased consumption and investment activity," she added.
Jobless claims rose to 287,000 in the final week of October, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Nonetheless, the four-week average of claims fell to its lowest level since 2000, Bloomberg data show.
GDP and employment data bodes well for the upcoming holiday season, especially if consumer confidence holds up amid falling gasoline prices. Earlier this week, the Conference Board said consumer confidence reached a seven-year high.
Thursday's GDP report also served to reinforce the Fed's outlook as it ends its monthly bond-buying, known as quantitative easing. The central bank confirmed Wednesday it was ending its monthly bond-buying program and provided a stronger-than-expected outlook on the U.S. labor market and economy.
The Fed said it is seeing "solid job gains" and falling underutilization in the labor market, indicating its views on the economy are strengthening. "On balance, a range of labor market indicators suggests that underutilization of labor resources is gradually diminishing," the central bank said.
Gold tumbled more than 2% to $1,196 a troy ounce in afternoon trading, the yield on the 10-Year U.S. Treasury was trading at 2.30%.
In stock market news, Visa (V) - Get Report pushed the Dow higher after it and rival MasterCard (MA) - Get Report reported better-than-forecast earnings on rising transaction volumes by businesses and consumers.
Shares of Visa and MasterCard rose more than 10% and 8%, respectively. Revenue at Visa exceeded analysts' forecasts as global debit and credit card spending increased 7.9% in the quarter. The company also increased its share buyback authorization by $5 billion.
In commodities markets, oil reversed early gains after the Energy Information Administration said U.S. crude oil supplies increased for the fourth straight week on rising oil output. Production over the past four weeks has reached 8.97 million barrels in the U.S, the highest level since the 1980s, Bloomberg data show.
Nymex West Texas Intermediate Crude fell over 1% to $81.14 a barrel, reversing early gains, while ICE Brent Crude was trading at $86.19. The EIA said on Thursday the price of gasoline could fall below $3 a gallon in coming weeks, given a lag between falling oil prices and retail prices.
Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) said Thursday that third-quarter profit fell 4.5% to $4.46 billion but rose 24% to $5.27 billion when stripping out the impact of fluctuations in the price of oil. Shares were little changed in afternoon trading.
Conoco-Phillips (COP) - Get Report also reported better-than-expected third-quarter earnings of $1.29 a share, beating estimates by 8 cents. The oil driller’s earnings were bolstered by asset sales. Shares fell less than 1% at $70.12.
-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York