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S&P 500, Dow average post biggest gains this year amid jobs data

Stocks rallied Thursday ahead of a key report on employment.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 188.30 points to 15,628.53. The Nasdaq composite index added 45.47 points to 4,057.12, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 21.79 points to 1,773.43.

The S&P and the Dow capped their biggest gains since Dec. 18.

The Department of Labor said initial claims for jobless benefits declined by 20,000 in the past week to 331,000. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a decrease to 335,000.

The decline in dismissals shows employers are confident demand for goods and services will hold up at the same time fiscal restraints ease. A pickup in the pace of hiring and wage growth would help fuel bigger gains in the consumer spending that accounts for almost 70 percent of the economy.

The January employment data will be released Friday before the start of trading. It will include details on U.S. payrolls and the nation's unemployment rate.

Commodities were little changed Thursday. Gold rose 30 cents to $1,257.20 an ounce and gold added 46 cents to $97.84 a barrel.

Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) gained 5.3 percent after posting quarterly profit that beat estimates. Akamai Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: AKAM), which helps speed Internet-data delivery for customers such as Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), soared 21 percent after beating forecasts for quarterly earnings.

Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) advanced 1.1 percent after agreeing to buy 10 percent of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. (Nasdaq: GMCR) for about $1.25 billion. Green Mountain surged 26 percent. Twitter Inc. (NYSE: TWTR) plunged 24 percent after reporting a wider-than-projected loss and slowing user growth.

About 6.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, 9 percent above the three-month average.

Some 23 S&P 500 companies reported quarterly results Thursday. About 330 of the gauge’s members have posted earnings this season, with 76 percent beating estimates for profit and 66 percent exceeding sales projections, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Walt Disney jumped 5.3 percent to $75.56, its biggest rally since November 2011. The world’s biggest entertainment company capitalized on the resurgence of its legendary animation studio with the hit film “Frozen” to post first-quarter profit that beat estimates.

Akamai soared 21 percent to $57.18, the highest level in seven years. The company also forecast first-quarter earnings that beat analysts’ projections, allaying concern that Apple may build its own content-delivery network, reducing its reliance on Akamai.

Coca-Cola advanced 1.1 percent to $38.03. The company will buy 16.7 million newly issued shares in the maker of Keurig coffee brewers for about $74.98 each. Green Mountain shares surged 26 percent to $102.10.

Coca-Cola’s move spurred speculation that rival PepsiCo Inc. (NYSE: PEP) will pursue a deal with SodaStream International Ltd. (NASDAQ: SODA), an Israeli maker of home soda machines. SodaStream rallied 7.2 percent to $38.35.

Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. (Nasdaq: DNKN) gained 3.4 percent to $48.89. The owner of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins restaurants reported adjusted earnings per share of 43 cents, exceeding the 40 cents analysts had projected.

An S&P index of homebuilders jumped 2.9 percent to the highest level since May. Lennar Corp. (NYSE: LEN) climbed 5.4 percent to $41.71 as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) boosted the stock’s rating to conviction buy from neutral.

Twitter sank 24 percent, the most since it began trading in November, to $50.03. Its first earnings report as a public company included a loss that was wider than analysts’ estimates. The operator of the microblogging website said it had 241 million monthly active users in the quarter, up 30 percent from a year earlier and slower than 39 percent seen in the third quarter.

Pandora Media Inc. (NYSE: P) tumbled 10 percent, the most since September, to $32.23. The biggest U.S. online radio service forecast results in the current quarter that trailed analysts’ estimates as hiring and content costs rise.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) fell 6.9 percent to $24.41, the lowest level since July. The second-largest producer of natural gas in the U.S. said it sees a funding cap of about $1 billion in 2014 and plans more asset sales.

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