By Joe Wallace and Michael Wursthorn
U.S. stocks rose Thursday on upbeat corporate earnings and signs of continued improvement in the labor market.
After fluctuating between gains and losses, the S&P 500 advanced in recent trading. Technology stocks, which had been beaten down this week, rebounded, helping to steer the broad benchmark higher. Consumer staple stocks acted as the market leader after investors pushed shares of Kellogg up following stronger-than-expected earnings.
Also helping the stock market was news that jobless claims slipped below 500,000 last week for the first time during the Covid-19 pandemic, suggesting the economic recovery continues. The economy's rejuvenation since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a key driver behind the stock market's ascent in recent months, with most of the benefits going into companies that are more closely tied to the U.S. economy.
"We should see cash flows and company cash flows really improve, especially with the reopenings happening," said Mary Nicola, a fund manager at PineBridge Investments. Although valuations are high, stocks remain attractive compared with low-yielding bonds, she added.
Investors will get a clearer signs of the jobs front on Friday after the Labor Department releases its monthly hiring report.
The S&P 500 added 0.3% in recent trading, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average added more than 150 points, putting the blue-chip index on pace for another record. The Nasdaq Composite, however, continued to bounce around the flatline, putting the benchmark at risk of falling for a fifth straight session.
Shares of Kellogg led the S&P 500 higher, rising 7.8% after the food company topped analyst's quarterly projections and raised its guidance for the year. That helped push the index's consumer-staples sector up 1.2%.
PayPal bumped up its revenue guidance for the year, giving its stock a 2.4% boost. Other tech stocks also rose, including Facebook, Alphabet and Apple, helping to offset losses from earlier in the week.
Weighing on the stock market was the healthcare sector. Companies behind the Covid-19 vaccines took a hit after U.S. Trade Rep. Katherine Tai said the U.S. would support waiving IP rights to potentially enable companies in developing countries to manufacture their own versions. Pfizer shed nearly 2%, while Johnson & Johnson slipped 0.2%. Moderna fell 4.2%.
Elsewhere, shares of Etsy dropped more than 14% after the online crafts marketplace projected a decline in revenue in the second quarter.
News Corp, The Wall Street Journal's parent company, and Beyond Meat are scheduled to report results after markets close.
Companies have blown past forecasts so far this earnings season. Of the 381 companies on the S&P 500 that had reported through Wednesday, 84% had topped analysts' expectations, according to FactSet.
With the exception of Kellogg, PayPal and several others, many companies beating forecasts have seen a lackluster response in their share price, which has given the market a smaller boost than most analysts had expected ahead of earnings season. Some investors say that is a sign, alongside recent volatility in tech stocks, that the rally that began last March is beginning to flag.
"Although the S&P is just 1% off its high, I think equity markets are beginning to look very fatigued," said Paul O'Connor, head of multiasset investments at Janus Henderson.
Indicators including surveys by the American Association of Individual Investors suggest investors are almost uniformly bullish, a setup that tends to precede a pullback in stocks, according to Mr. O'Connor. "There are such high expectations embedded in markets that we're going to need a steady stream of good news just to maintain the current prices," he said.
In the bond market, the yield on 10-year Treasury notes slipped to 1.793% from 1.584% Wednesday. Yields, which move in the opposite direction to bond prices, have fallen for four consecutive days.
Overseas, the Stoxx Europe 600 slipped 0.5%, weighed down by shares of oil, gas, travel-and-leisure and technology companies. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.8% and China's Shanghai Composite slipped 0.2%.
Write to Joe Wallace at Joe.Wallace@wsj.com and Michael Wursthorn at Michael.Wursthorn@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires