NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks finished solidly higher Thursday after a mix of data and before Friday's February nonfarm payrolls report.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 47 points higher, or 0.5%, to 10,444. The S&P 500 added 4 points, or 0.4%, to 1123, and the Nasdaq went ahead by 12 points, or 0.5%, to 2292.

>>Top Telecom Stocks That Are Unloved

Investors are readying themselves for the week's main economic data event, the Labor Department's latest jobs report , which is expected to show continued weakness.

Scheduled for release on Friday at 8:30 a.m. EST, nonfarm payrolls are forecast to fall by another 63,000. Analysts also believe the nation's unemployment rate edged higher to 9.8%, according to consensus forecasts from

Jay Suskind, senior vice president at Duncan Williams, doesn't expect much of a reaction from the market since so many people are already discounting the number because February is a short month and had heavy snowstorms.

"I think that unless the number is extremely good or extremely bad, it's going to be a nonevent," Suskind said, adding that if the number is much stronger than expected, the market could take it as a sign that the Federal Reserve may consider raising rates sooner than expected.

Initial weekly jobless claims also came in mostly as expected the day before the February nonfarm payrolls report is released, according to the Labor Department. The department reported claims fell 29,000 to 469,000, from 498,000 the previous week. Economists had been looking for a reading of 470,000 claims on the week.

Late in the day, the House passed its version of $15 billion jobs stimulus bill. The legislation now goes back to the Senate, which passed a very similar measure last week, for a final endorsement before it goes to President Obama for signing.

Shares of Citigroup ( C) were the most heavily traded on the New York Stock Exchange, adding 3 cents, or 0.9%, to $3.43 as Chief Executive Vikram Pandit testified before the Congressional Oversight Panel on the government's bailout of the bank. Pandit thanked the government for the $45 billion in funds and said he favored better consumer-protection measures.

Shares of Bank of America ( BAC) and Ford ( F) also were seeing heavy trading on the NYSE, which had listed volume of 3.9 billion.

Volume remained light today, with money staying on the sidelines ahead of the highly anticipated jobs numbers. The Dow had volume of 164.9 million, compared with an average of 200.4 million. Walt Disney ( DIS), American Express ( AXP) and Boeing ( BA) were its top performers, while the biggest laggards included McDonald's ( MCD), Caterpillar ( CAT) and Merck ( MRK).

Earlier, pending home sales for January came in weaker than anticipated, dropping 7.6% and dashing market expectations for a 1% uptick.

January factory orders rose 1.7%, according to the Census Bureau, compared with economists' expectations for an increase of 1.8%. The bureau also upwardly revised December's growth to 1.5%, from 1% previously.

But economic sentiment also got a lift on several fronts. Despite fears that blizzards kept consumers indoors last month, several retailers beat sales estimates. The S&P Retail Index rose 1.3% today. Abercrombie & Fitch ( ANF), Limited Brands ( LTD), Costco Wholesale ( COST) and BJ's Wholesale ( BJ) were among some of the companies reporting the best growth.

The Labor Department also said productivity grew 6.9% in the fourth quarter, which was upwardly revised from the 6.2% growth it reported originally. Unit labor costs fell by 5.9%, compared with projections for a decline of 4.5%.

Separately, UBS economist Maury Harris noted that solid rises in the Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing and services measures in February are "consistent with a continued and broadening uptrend in activity."

On Wednesday, the ISM's February nonmanufacturing index came in at 53, exceeding economists' expectations for a reading of 51 and improving from last month's level of 50.5.

"Much of the growth in the fourth quarter came from inventories; the strengthening in the nonmanufacturing measure so far in the first quarter indicates that the nonmanufacturing sector, as well as the manufacturing sector, is reviving," Harris said.

In earnings news, Suntech Power ( STP) swung to a profit and reported improvements to fourth-quarter sales and gross profit margins. The stock gained 72 cents, or 5.3%, to $14.40.

Ambac Assurance , the main unit of insurer Ambac Financial Group ( ABK), reported a fourth-quarter loss.

Shares of Ciena ( CIEN) slid 4.2% after the communications networking equipment provider missed analysts' estimates with an adjusted loss that widened from a year ago.

The dollar was trading higher against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index ahead by 0.7%.

In commodities markets, crude oil for April delivery fell 66 cents, but still held above the psychologically significant $80 mark, settling at $80.21 a barrel. The April gold contract shed $10.20 to settle at $1,133.10 an ounce.

The April natural gas contract tumbled 18 cents to $4.58 per million British thermal units after a government inventory report showed storage levels fell by a lighter-than-expected 116 billion cubic feet. Analysts surveyed by Platts had estimated a withdrawal between 128 to 132 billion cubic feet.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury strengthened 5/32, diluting the yield to 3.604%.

Overseas, Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 1.4%, and Japan's Nikkei lost 1.1%. The FTSE in London fell 0.1%, and the DAX in Frankfurt slipped 0.4%.

The Bank of England and European Central Bank left key interest rates steady in separate policy meetings Thursday.

-- Written by Melinda Peer and Sung Moss in New York.

If you liked this article you might like





Novice Trade: Financial Sector ETF

Novice Trade: Financial Sector ETF

Tiger Woods' Stock Is Surging at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Tiger Woods' Stock Is Surging at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Goldman Sachs Suggests You Rush to Put All Your Money in These S&P 500 Sectors

Goldman Sachs Suggests You Rush to Put All Your Money in These S&P 500 Sectors