NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- U.S. stock markets popped on Thursday as jobless claims came in lower than expected, suggesting the labor situation was improving despite recent data weakness in other sectors.

  • The S&P 500 closed up 1.24% to 1,773.43, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1.22% -- its first close up 1% this year -- to 15,628.46. The Nasdaq increased 1.14% to 4,057.12.
  • Initial jobless claims for the week ended Feb. 1 fell to 331,000, which was lower than estimates of 335,000. The December U.S. international trade deficit, meanwhile, widened to $38.7 billion vs. estimates of $36 billion.
  • Though still on pace to close lower for the week, the S&P 500 and Dow closing up more than 1% helped to curb the more than 2% losses in each index on Monday.
  • "There's a battle going on here," Uri Landesman, president of Platinum Partners, said in a phone interview from New York. "The bulls don't want to give up too quickly ... the bears are looking at a five-year rally and a very high level of bullishness."
  • Friday's January nonfarm payrolls report is expected to show an increase to 180,000 jobs added after December's scant 74,000.
  • "When you look at this recovering economy, the ugly stepsister has been jobs," Thom Fross, co-founder of Fross & Fross Wealth Management, said in an interview. "But if these numbers continue to come in where they are, the ugly stepsister could end up being Cinderella."
  • The European Central Bank on Thursday kept its benchmark interest rate at a historical low of 0.25%.
  • The Bank of England kept interest rates at a record low of 0.5%.
  • Akamai Technologies (AKAM) was the biggest gainer on the S&P 500 after the content-delivery company reported a better-than-expected fourth-quarter profit. Shares surged 20.6% to $57.18. Chesapeake Energy  (CHK) was the worst performer in the index, dropping 6.9% to $24.41.
  • Yelp (YELP) popped 18.9% to $89.46 after its fourth-quarter report showed better-than-expected sales and upbeat user growth.
  • Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) soared 26.2% to $102.10 after announcing a partnership with Coca-Cola (KO) a day earlier.

-- Written by Joe Deaux, Keris Alison Lahiff and Andrea Tse in New York

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