Financial markets closed Thursday at record highs following another piece of good news on the economy, unemployment claims dropped.
At the end of trading on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 109.1 points, or about 0.6 percent, at 17,265.99, another record. The Standard & Poor's 500 was up 9.8 points, nearly 0.5 percent, at 2,011.4, and the Nasdaq composite gained 31.2 points, or nearly 0.7 percent, to 4,593.4.
JOBS: Fewer Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week, according to the Labor Department. Weekly applications fell 36,000 to 280,000, well below economists' forecasts. The four-week average, a less-volatile measure, also dropped.
GOING UP: "The question isn't 'Why are we up today?'" said Dan Veru, chief investment officer at Palisade Capital Partners in Manhattan. "It's 'Why aren't we up a lot more?' What you're seeing is the U.S. economy growing at a modest pace, not too hot and not too cold." It's an environment that allows the Federal Reserve to stick to a policy that coaxes businesses to borrow and spend and could fuel further gains for the stock market.
BIG DEBUT: Alibaba Group is expected to wrap up its mammoth initial public offering later Thursday, then make its debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday under the symbol "BABA." The Chinese e-commerce company could raise as much as $21.8 billion from institutional investors, making it the largest IPO on record in the U.S.
FED WATCH: On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve maintained its stance of keeping short-term interest rates near zero for a "considerable time." But it did raise its estimate for what the Fed's benchmark interest rate could be at the end of 2015: to 1.38 percent, up from its last estimate of 1.13 percent. In the depths of the 2008 financial crisis, the Fed cut its benchmark rate to a range near zero and has kept it there ever since.
Some economists expect the first rate increase to come by the middle of next year. Before the Fed's meeting, there was speculation the Fed might signal an earlier start.