NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stocks finished with solid gains Thursday following encouraging data on labor market conditions and dovish commentary from the European Central Bank.

The release of the minutes of the Sept. 12-13 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee contained few surprises, showing the central bank's policy makers were mostly swayed by the slow pace of job creation in their decision to launch QE3.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged 81 points, or 0.60%, to close at 13,575. The blue-chip index has now risen in three of the past four sessions and is up 11.1% so far in 2012.

Breadth was very positive with gainers overtaking decliners, 25 to 5. The top percentage advancers were Alcoa ( AA), American Express ( AXP), Bank of America ( BAC), JPMorgan ( JPM), UnitedHealth ( UNH) and Verizon ( VZ).

The biggest blue-chip decliners were Intel ( INTC), Home Depot ( HD) and Cisco ( CSCO).

Shares of Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) were up slightly, catching a bounce after losing nearly 2% earlier in the session. The stock fell sharply on Wednesday after the CEO Meg Whitman told analysts the tech giant would "continue to see a broad-based profit decline across business units in 2013." Thursday's session low of $14.24 was HP's weakest level since March 2003.

The S&P 500 rose more than 10 points, or 0.72%, to settle at 1461, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq added more than 14 points, or 0.45%, to finish at 3149.

The strongest sectors in the broad market were consumer cyclicals, financials and basic materials. Every industry group finished in the green with technology recovering from early weakness. The perception that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the first debate with President Barack Obama gave the big banks and insurance companies a boost. The KBW Bank Index rose nearly 2%.

Volume totaled 3.62 billion on the New York Stock Exchange and 1.59 billion on the Nasdaq. Winners were running far ahead of losers on both exchanges, nearly 3-to-1 on the Big Board and 2-to-1 on the Nasdaq.

Other asset classes exhibited higher than normal volatility as the bonds and the dollar dropped sharply, gold soared and oil broke back above $90 a barrel.

The euro was advancing 0.85% against the dollar on Thursday after the ECB decided to stand pat on its record-low benchmark interest rate. The Bank of England also held interest rates unchanged. Both moves were expected by economists.

ECB President Mario Draghi said at a press conference that he expects euro-area growth to stay weak but that downside risks could be held in check by effective actions.

"Draghi's rhetoric was firmly supportive of the Euro and the efforts set forth by governments, with him clearly stating that the OMTs (the bond-buying program created to cap sovereign yields) were ready for use, so long as a government asks for assistance," said Christopher Vecchio, currency analyst at DailyFX. "Considering that the Troika would have to be involved, I believe that the efforts set forth by the Spanish government via the 2013 budget will be deemed sufficient in the coming days, paving the way for a full sovereign bailout by Spain."

The European markets also got a boost from easing Spanish borrowing costs after a smooth government bond auction.

The FTSE 100 in London finished up 0.03% and the DAX in Germany settled off 0.23%.

The Nikkei Average in Japan closed up 0.89% and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong edged up 0.09%. The Bank of Japan's two-day policy meeting is underway and set to conclude on Friday.

Investors got some favorable data to chew over ahead of Friday's September jobs report as the Labor Department reported initial jobless claims for the week ended Sept. 29 of 367,000, slightly better the consensus estimate of 370,000. The four-week moving average was unchanged at 375,000.

Also, outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said layoffs picked up modestly in September but stayed low, with U.S.-based employers announcing plans to cut 33,816 jobs from their payrolls in September, up 4.9% from a 20-month low of 32,239 job cuts in August.

The Census Bureau said that factory orders fell 5.2% in August, which was slightly better than the 6% decline expected by economists, after rising by a downwardly-revised 2.6%.

November crude oil futures settled up $3.57 at $91.71 a barrel while December gold futures surged $16.70 to close at $1,796.50 an ounce.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury fell 17/32, boosting the yield to 1.674%. The greenback was down 0.69%, according to the dollar index.

In corporate news, Costco Wholesale ( COST) said Thursday that same-store sales in September rose 6%. Total sales jumped 8% to $9.31 billion. Shares rose 1.9%.

Kohl's ( KSS) shares were down 2.5% after the department store operator posted a 2.7% drop in September same-store sales, which was even worse than the 0.2% fall expected by analysts.

Nuvasive ( NUVA), the San Diego-based medical device maker, issued weak revenue guidance, saying it sees third-quarter revenue of $147 million vs. its prior projection for a flat performance from its second-quarter total of $154.4 million. Shares plummeted 32.9%.

Informatica ( INFA) shares plunged 22.6% after the provider of enterprise data integration software provided preliminary third-quarter results that disappointed Wall Street analysts amid a weak revenue in Europe.

CollabRX ( CLRX) shares surged 38% after the data analytics company announced a multi-year partnership agreement with Life Technologies for the development and commercialization of CollabRx technology and content resources to be used in conjunction with Life Technologies' global cancer diagnostics development and its laboratory developed test services business.

Vringo ( VRNG) shares were surged 22.1% after the development-stage company focusing on mobile phone software saw an obstacle towards its ability to proceed with a patent lawsuit against Google ( GOOG) and other technology companies eliminated with the denial by a federal judge of Google's motion for summary judgment in the patent dispute.


--Written by Andrea Tse and Joe Deaux in New York.

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

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