U.S. stocks gained Thursday as investors tried to anticipate when and how quickly the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise a key interest rate. A government report on unemployment claims suggested the job market remains strong.

At the close on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 76.8 points, about 0.5 percent, at 16,330.4. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 10.3 points, about 0.5 percent, to 1,952.3. The Nasdaq composite climbed 39.7 points, about 0.8 percent, to 4,796.3.

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CRUDE ENERGY: About the same time, the price of benchmark U.S. crude oil rose $1.49 cents to $45.64 a barrel in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The skidding price of crude oil on Wednesday caused the indexes to end with losses dragged down by energy companies.

MORE ON JOBS: Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, keeping this key indicator of the labor market near historic lows. The Labor Department said weekly applications benefits dropped 6,000 to 275,000.

FED WATCH: On Wednesday a separate report from the government indicated that U.S. job openings jumped to the highest level in 15 years in July. A report last Friday showed the unemployment rate fell to a seven-year low of 5.1 percent in August. More evidence that the job market remains strong may prompt the Fed to raise interest rates at its meeting next week for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis. The very low rates have been a boon for stocks.

ANALYST'S OPINION: "The Fed has to be mindful of all this job creation because, sooner or later, companies are going to have to compete for workers, and they're going to compete by raising wages," said David Joy, chief market strategist at Ameriprise Financial. "That will filter into the Fed's deliberations next week."