NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Major U.S. stock markets jumped Thursday fueled by better-than-expected consumer spending and labor market reports which offset concern the Federal Reserve may curb its monetary stimulus program. The S&P 500 advanced 1.5% to close at 1,636.36, its second-biggest daily gain in 2013. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1.21% to 15,176.08 while the Nasdaq added 1.32% to 3,445.37. The Census Bureau's retail sales report Thursday showed a nice rebound in consumer spending activity in May. Retail sales rose by a greater than expected 0.6%, the strongest reading since February, after increasing 0.1% in April. Economists, on average, were expecting a rise of 0.4% in May. "No,
retail sales was eyepopping," said Doug Cote, chief market strategist for ING U.S. Investment Management. "That's a big number, because it defies all the strategists that thought the consumer was dead; the consumer is alive and well." Gannett ( GCI), PVH Corp. ( PVH) and Safeway ( SWY) were among the S&P leaders on Wednesday. Gannett surged 34% to $26.60 as the owner of newspapers and television stations said it is buying Belo Corp. ( BLC) for $13.75 a share in cash, or about $1.5 billion, in a deal the nearly doubles Gannett's current broadcast portfolio. Belo shares soared 28.3% to $13.77. Safeway jumped 7.4% to $24.82 after saying Wednesday it plans to sell its Canadian supermarket operations to Sobeys, the No. 2 grocery store operator in Canada, for $5.7 billion. Safeway will have about 1,400 stores in the U.S. after the deal. PVH Corp. popped 10.2% to $122.60 after the apparel maker booked first-quarter earnings that exceeded the average analyst earnings estimate of $1.35 a share at $1.91 a share thanks to stronger sales at Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. Markets surged on Wednesday, despite the week-long drag that worries of Fed tapering has had on traders. "With the next FOMC meeting just up ahead next week, sentiments are very divided and the market is very sensitive to any hint of what Fed is going to do," Joyce Liu, an investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore said in a note. "The market is extremely sensitive to any news that has the slightest relation to U.S. monetary policies now," she said. The Labor Department reported that weekly initial jobless claims slipped by 12,000 to a less than expected 334,000 in the week ended June 8. Economists, on average, were expecting jobless claims of 345,000. The four-week moving average was 345,250, a decrease of 7,250 from the previous week's unrevised average of 352,500. Continuing claims during the week ending June 1 was less than predicted at 2.973 million, an increase of 2,000 from the preceding week's level of 2.971 million. Economists were expecting continuing claims of 2.975 million. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that prices for U.S. imports declined 0.6% in May after a 0.7% drop the prior month thanks to falling fuel and nonfuel prices, reflecting subdued inflation pressures. U.S. export prices fell 0.5% after a decline of 0.7% in April. Spectra Energy ( SE) climbed 1.2% to $34.08, extending its advance this week more than 11% after it was revealed that all of its U.S. transmissions and assets will be transferred to its publicly traded Spectra Energy Partners ( SEP). The Nikkei 225 in Japan plunged 6.35% to finish at 12,445.38 Thursday, dipping into bear market territory as the yen surged to its highest level against the U.S. dollar since the Bank of Japan launched its aggressive economic stimulus package in early April, reflecting a flight to safety amid questions about the effectiveness of the current stimulus measures. Earlier this week, Japan's central bank announced its decision to refrain from further stimulus measures, hurting sentiment among some investors. The benchmark 10-year Treasury was surging 24/32, diluting the yield to 2.145%. The dollar was down 0.26% to $80.72 according to the U.S. dollar index. August gold futures lost $14.20 to settle at $1,377.80 an ounce. July crude oil futures closed up 81 cents to $96.69 a barrel. In other economic news, the Census Bureau reported Thursday that business inventories rose by an as expected by 0.3% in April after a downwardly revised 0.1% dip in March. The total business inventories/sales ratio at the end of April was 1.31, up from 1.3 in March as businesses required more time to clear shelves amid weak sales. Follow @atwtse Written by Andrea Tse and Joe Deaux in New York >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.