Applications for unemployment benefits applications rose 6,000 last week, more than economists had forecast. The four-week average also rose for the third straight week to 382,000, another sign that the jobs market remains weak.
The government also reported that the main measure of U.S. consumer prices fell in May by 0.3 percent, the biggest drop since December 2008. Analysts said the slowdown in overall price increases could make it more likely that the Fed will announce some new steps to boost the economy when it meets next week.
"Ultimately, all that matters for investors right now is whether these developments mean the Federal Reserve is more or less likely to ease policy in order to support what they may see as an insufficiently strong economic recovery," said Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at the brokerage BTIG, in a note to clients.
An hour after the opening bell, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 80 points to 12,576. Home Depot rose 2 percent, the most of the 30 stocks in the Dow.
The gains were broad. Nine of the 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 rose and three stocks rose for every two that fell on the New York Stock Exchange.
The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 8 points to 1,322. The Nasdaq composite gained 10 points to 2,828.
In Europe, borrowing rates for Spain touched a record high Thursday after the rating agency Moody's cut its credit rating to one notch above junk status. Spain's benchmark 10-year bond hit 6.96 percent.
Among stocks making big moves:
— Nokia plunged 15 percent, or 43 cents, to $2.36. The cellphone maker cut its earnings forecast and announced plans to cut $2 billion in costs by the end of next year. Nokia said it will close its main manufacturing plant in Finland, shutter research facilities in Germany and Canada and lay off 10,000 employees.
— Kroger rose 0.7 percent after the grocery store chain raised its profit forecast for the year. The Cincinnati-based company, which operates Ralphs, Food 4 Less and other grocery stores, also announced it will spend $1 billion to buy back its stock. Kroger's stock gained 76 cents to $22.04.
— Winnebago Industries reported that its quarterly profit more than tripled, mainly because of higher prices for its vehicles. The results topped analysts' expectations. Winnebago's stock rose 4 percent, or 40 cents, to $9.37.