Solid gains among phone companies and some retailers helped nudge U.S. stocks higher Thursday, a day after the stock market had its biggest drop in eight months. Banks also recouped some of their losses. Energy and materials stocks fell.
The rally came a day after the market's worst drop since September as political tumult deepened in Washington, stoking worries among investors that
"People may be wanting to put money to work in stocks. But the bonds they bought yesterday — they're still going to keep those as a little bit of a hedge, just in case," said J.J. Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 8.69 points, or 0.4%, to 2,365.72. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 56.09 points, or 0.3%, to 20,663.02. The Nasdaq composite index climbed 43.89 points, or 0.7%, to 6,055.13. The Russell 2000 index of smaller stocks ticked up 5.19 points, or 0.4%, to 1,361.08.
Bond prices slipped. The 10-year Treasury yield rose to 2.23% from 2.22%.
Traders welcomed data from the Labor Department showing that applications for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in nearly three months.
Despite the day's gains, the major stock indexes were still on course to end the week in the red.
Stocks appeared headed for another down day early Thursday after sell-offs in Asia and Europe. But better-than-expected quarterly results from Wal-Mart Stores and retailers such as L Brands helped lift the market.
Wal-Mart climbed 3.2% to $77.54. L Brands, which owns Victoria's Secret, rose 2.7% to $49.69.
Incyte surged 6.9% to $128.80 on growing analyst optimism over the biopharmaceutical company's work developing cancer treatments.
Pandora Media rose 5.5% to $9.42 after the New York Post reported that Sirius XM Holdings is in renewed talks about buying the streaming music company.
Weak quarterly results from other companies sent those stocks lower.
Ascena Retail Group sank 27% to $2.06 after the parent of Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant cut its forecast for its fiscal third quarter and full year, citing lagging customer traffic and other challenges.
Cisco Systems fell 7.2% to $31.38 a day after the maker of Internet gear said it expects revenue in its fiscal third quarter to be down from a year earlier. The company also said it was laying off 1,100 workers in addition to the 5,500 job cuts it announced in August.
In after-hours trading, Gap climbed more than 3% after reporting a quarterly profit that beat expectations. The apparel company had fallen 1.5% to $23.19 in regular trading.
Benchmark U.S. crude oil futures rose 28 cents, or 0.6%, to $49.35 a barrel. Brent crude, used to price international oils, climbed 30 cents, or 0.6%, to $52.51 a barrel. Natural gas fell 1 cent to $3.18 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline was flat at $1.60 a gallon. Heating oil rose 1 cent to $1.54 a gallon.
Gold fell $5.90 to $1,252.80 an ounce. Silver fell 24 cents to $16.67 an ounce. Copper fell 2 cents to $2.53 a pound.
The euro slipped to $1.1101 from $1.1150. The dollar strengthened to 111.49 yen from 111.11 yen.
Major stock indexes overseas closed lower.
In Europe, Germany's DAX was down 0.3%, while France's CAC 40 fell 0.5%, and the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares sank 0.9%. In Asia, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index slid 1.3%, South Korea's Kospi lost 0.3%, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.6%.
2:35 p.m.: This article was updated with closing prices, context and analyst comment.