) -- The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

posted its tenth-straight winning session for the first time since 1996, and the

S&P 500

neared its all-time high on Thursday after a drop in last week's jobless claims bolstered confidence in the world's largest economy.


Dow Jones Industrial Average

rose 83.86 points, or 0.58%, to 14,539.14.


S&P 500

climbed 0.56% to 1,563.25, to inch within 2 points of its record closing level of 1,565.15 reached in October 2007. The


closed up 0.43% to 3,258.93.

"Here it is, 2013, and basically the question I would have is: what took so long?" said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at ING Investment Management U.S., when asked about the S&P 500 nearing its all-time highs on Thursday. "It's a glaring case of why you should own other asset classes other than the big, mega-cap indices, because the smaller cousins are trouncing it."

Among the top performers on the S&P 500 were a trio of energy companies that spiked higher on rising natural gas prices. Shares of

WPX Energy

(WPX) - Get Report

jumped 4.9% to $16.79,

Chesapeake Energy

(CHK) - Get Report

gained 5.2% to $22.52 and shares of

Noble Energy

(NBL) - Get Report

climbed 1.5% to $115.98.

Crude traded in New York gained 51 cents to settle at $93.03, the highest settlement price since Feb. 25.

The equities rally, which began on March 1 punctuated by positive economic data, has given Washington policymakers reason to cheer, said Paul Pagnato, managing director and partner at Hightower's Pagnato-Karp Group, which oversees more than $2 billion in client assets.

The rally "gives confidence that what our federal banking system and our government has done as well as the rest of the world's intervention, is working,'' Pagnato told


TST Recommends

in interview on March 11.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of people who have filed to receive unemployment insurance benefits fell by 10,000 to 332,000 in the week ended March 9 from an upwardly revised 342,000 the prior week. Economists, on average, were expecting initial jobless claims of 350,000.

Men's Wearhouse


surged 19% to $34.62 after the Houston-based retailer said it was exploring the sale of its K&G operations, which sells clothing for men, women and children. Men's Wearhouse hired Jefferies & Co. to evaluate strategic alternatives for K&G.


(CVX) - Get Report

shares were rising 1.4% to $120, hitting a new 52-week high Thursday after a number of analysts on Wednesday expressed confidence in the ability of the U.S.' second largest oil company to achieve ambitious production and development goals following its analyst conference on Tuesday.


(EBAY) - Get Report

shares were popping 1.6% to $51.80 after Evercore Partners analyst Ken Sena upgraded the stock to "overweight" from "equal-weight" in reaction to a selloff Wednesday of eBay shares on worries that the company's online payments service unit PayPal would be hurt by


(MA) - Get Report

plan to raise fees on digital wallet transactions.

Sena said in a client note that the selloff was overdone as the impact on the company should be less than 50 basis points of PayPal's margin, which eBay can easily cope with.


(AMZN) - Get Report

shares were sliding 3.4% to $265.70 after


cut its view on the stock to "neutral" from "overweight" and lowered its price target to $300 from $333. JPMorgan analyst Doug Anmuth said in an investor report that the online retailer could see "more material deceleration" in gross profit growth to 31% in 2013.

E-Trade Financial

(ETFC) - Get Report

was dropping 8.2% to $10.85 after its biggest shareholder, Citadel Equity Fund Ltd., said it plans to sell its entire position of 27.4 million shares in the company. Citadel owns a 9.6% stake in E-Trade.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was incrementally higher, slightly diluting the yield to 2.022%. The dollar was shedding 0.41%, according to the

U.S. dollar index.

The FTSE 100 in London added 0.74% and the DAX in Germany gained 1.1% as European Union leaders began a two-day summit in Brussels. Discussions will include a bailout for Cyprus and easing austerity measures to battle the recession and rapidly increasing joblessness in southern Europe, which has become a much more immediate and urgent concern than the region's debt crisis.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed up 0.28% and Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.16%.

Written by Andrea Tse and Joe Deaux in New York

>To contact the writer of this article, click here:

Andrea Tse