NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Chances of a rate hike this year have grown more faint, and with each passing day, investors are putting money back into equities.

Stocks broke free of range-bound trading during the final hour on Thursday as sentiment continues to strengthen that the Federal Reserve is unlikely to raise interest rates before March. On the day, the S&P 500 rose 0.9%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.3%, and the Nasdaq climbed 0.4%.

Investors interpreted the Federal Reserve's minutes of its September meeting as dovish. Increased downside risks in September encouraged members to delay a rate hike last month, according to the Fed's meeting minutes. Members said it would be "prudent" to wait until risks eased before tightening monetary policy for the first time in a decade.

"The Committee decided that it was prudent to wait for additional information confirming that the economic outlook had not deteriorated and bolstering members' confidence that inflation would gradually move up toward 2% over the medium term," the Fed said in the minutes.

Members argued that weaker Chinese growth and market volatility would prove a hurdle to inflation reaching the Fed's 2% target rate. Only one committee member argued for a rate hike at the September meeting.

"Market reaction, like during the meeting, is overwhelmingly interpreting the minutes as dovish, as an extension of the dovishness," Bill Ehling, fixed income market strategist at Federated Investors, told TheStreet. However, he noted, "the market behavior over the next couple of months is really going to be contingent on the data stream and what we see in the context of the Chinese slowdown."

The overall likelihood of a March rate hike is currently at 59%, according to the CME Group's Fed funds futures. The chances of a 0.25-basis point rate hike in March increased to 41% this month from 33% in September. 

In after hours trading, Alcoa (AA - Get Report) was falling as the aluminum maker posted net income that fell short of Wall Street expectations. Earnings of 7 cents per share on 45.57 billion in revenue failed to meet forecasts of 13 cents a shares on $5.65 billion in sales.

News broke Thursday that Representative Kevin McCarthy had withdrawn from the race for House speaker. McCarthy dropped out of the race and current House Speaker John Boehner postponed the election to find his replacement Thursday afternoon following a closed-door GOP conference meeting. McCarthy said the House needs a fresh face to unite a fractured party.

Biotech stocks were the worst performers on markets again Thursday. The sector has suffered from massive declines over the past two weeks after Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton vowed to address industry "price gouging." The iShares NASDAQ Biotechnology Index ETF (IBB - Get Report) has dropped nearly 17% since Sept. 21, the day Clinton made the announcement. Gilead Sciences (GILD - Get Report) , Pfizer (PFE - Get Report) , Amgen (AMGN - Get Report) and Merck (MRK - Get Report) were among the worst performers on Thursday.

Alcoa (AA - Get Report) unofficially kicks off earnings season on Thursday with third-quarter results after the closing bell. Expectations for corporate earnings are already low. Third-quarter earnings are expected to decline 4.2% from a year earlier, according to Thomson Reuters. Similar issues that plagued the second quarter such as a stronger U.S. dollar and lower energy prices are expected to carry over into this past quarter.

"We've seen companies set the bar rather low again for earnings season which has been typical," Chris Gaffney, president of EverBank World Markets, told TheStreet. "What we are looking for is to see what impact the stronger dollar has on U.S. companies. We are expecting and have seen some warnings from some of the multinationals that this strong dollar is hurting sales."

Jobless claims in the U.S. fell to their lowest level since mid-July, according to the Labor Department. The number of new claims for unemployment benefits fell 13,000 to 263,000 in the week ended Oct. 3. The less-volatile four-week claims average fell 3,000 to 267,500.

"While jobless claims are just one dimension of labor market activity, the trend in the series is encouraging and suggests the slowing in the September employment report may prove to be temporary," wrote Kevin Cummins, senior U.S. economist at RBS Securities, in a note.

U.S. stocks ended Wednesday modestly higher after energy and basic materials stocks jumped despite a drop in crude oil prices. Markets had moved erratically, however, in line with crude oil which rallied before slumping on an increase in domestic inventories.

Volkswagen (VLKAY) shares were on watch as CEO of U.S. operations Michael Horn testified to the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the emissions scandal that has plagued the automaker since late September. Horn said it was "hard to believe" top executives weren't aware of the defeat device. Shares have fallen more than 30% since news broke that software was used in diesel cars to game emissions tests.

Dell and private-equity firm Silver Lake are reportedly in advanced talks to buy hardware company EMC (EMC) , according to The Wall Street Journal. The deal would be one of the biggest tech hardware industry takeovers in history. EMC shares were up 4.7%.

Deutsche Bank (DB - Get Report) shares fell 1.3% after the bank said it would take a charge of 5.8 billion euros in the third quarter, tied to higher regulatory requirements in its corporate banking unit. The bank guided for a quarterly loss between 6 billion and 6.2 billion euros.

Lumber Liquidators (LL - Get Report) jumped 12.6% on news it will pay $10 million to settle federal charges. The company will plead guilty to five violations of environmental law which alleged it had knowingly sourced illegal wood products. However, management still has to deal with a separate investigation into the sale of harmful flooring products.

Domino's Pizza (DPZ - Get Report) fell 5% as quarterly sales and profit fell short of estimates because of the impact of a stronger U.S. dollar. The pizza chain has been behind an international push, opening 194 new locations, mostly overseas, over the quarter. Net income of 67 cents a share was below estimates of 74 cents.