By Sinead Carew
NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks rallied Thursday afternoon and closed higher as an upturn in oil prices and a rally in Apple and Boeing shares helped offset some disappointing earnings and lingering questions over U.S. monetary policy.
The S&P 500 had fallen as much as 0.6 percent earlier, led by energy stocks, which then reversed direction along with crude prices.
%VIRTUAL-pullquote-Technically the market was a little oversold ... so we just needed a little bit of positive news to spark an afternoon rally.%While the afternoon rise in crude wasn't huge, it was enough to cheer up the market after two weak days, said Randy Frederick, managing director at Charles Schwab (SCHW) in Austin.
"Technically the market was a little oversold, so we were in a pretty good position to bounce, so we just needed a little bit of positive news to spark an afternoon rally," he said.
The market has been advancing and retreating within a range of 200 to 300 points for some time as traders grapple with earnings reports, a strong dollar and weak oil prices and uncertainty about when U.S. interest rates will rise, said Dennis Dick, head of markets structure at Bright Trading.
"There's a lot technical trading going on," he said. "When the fundamentals are confusing and the macro is confusing, you have to lean on the technicals."
Harman International (HAR) shares rose 23.8 percent, making it the biggest percentage gainer in the S&P after it beat profit and revenue expectations.
Coach (COH) shares rose 6.8 percent after the handbag maker posted a better-than-expected quarterly profit. Dow component McDonald's (MCD) added 5 percent after announcing its CEO will retire.
%VIRTUAL-WSSCourseInline-975%Shares in Chinese internet giant Alibaba Group (BABA) fell 8.8 percent after revenue missed expectations and raised questions about China's economy. Qualcomm (QCOM) fell 10.3 percent after trimming its 2015 outlook.
The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 225.48 points, or 1.31 percent, to 17,416.85, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) gained 19.09 points, or 0.95 percent, to 2,021.25 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 45.41 points, or 0.98 percent, to 4,683.41.
Apple (AAPL) closed up 3.1 percent and Boeing (BA) finished 5.8 percent higher.
Supporting stocks, data showed weekly applications for unemployment insurance fell to their lowest in almost 15 years, adding to bullish signals on the labor market.
Investors also continued to digest Wednesday's Federal Reserve statement, which failed to give much clarity about when rates would begin going up.
The energy sector finished up 0.17 percent with U.S. crude oil turning around to settle up 8 cents at $44.53.
About 7.7 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, above the 7 billion average for the last five sessions, according to BATS Global Markets.
NYSE advancing issues outnumbered decliners 2,074 to 1,000, for a 2.07-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,823 issues rose and 893 fell for a 2.04-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 16 new 52-week highs and 26 lows; the Nasdaq composite recorded 37 new highs and 101 lows.
-With additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos.
What to watch Friday:
At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Commerce Department reports fourth-quarter gross domestic product, and the Labor Department releases the employment cost index for the fourth quarter.
The Institute For Supply Management-Chicago releases its survey of business conditions during January in the Chicago area at 9:45 a.m.
The University of Michigan releases its final survey of January consumer sentiment at 10 a.m.
These selected companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results: