Dow, S&P close at record highs

A wave of buying sent U.S. stocks solidly higher on Wall Street Thursday, pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average above the all-time high it closed at in January. The S&P 500, the benchmark for many index funds, was also above the peak it reached last month.

A weaker dollar and a mix of mostly encouraging economic reports kept investors in a buying mood, despite the escalating trade tensions between the U.S. and China as each nation imposes new rounds of punitive tariffs on the other. 

Technology stocks, banks and health care companies accounted for much of the rally. Energy and industrial companies lagged, and homebuilders slumped following new data showing flat home sales in August and surging mortgage rates.

The S&P 500 index rose 23 points, or 0.8 percent, to close at 2,931. The Dow Jones industrials gained 251 points, or 1 percent, ending at 26,657. The Nasdaq composite climbed 78 points, or 1 percent, to finish at 8,028. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies picked up 16 points, or 0.9 percent, closing at 1,719.

Investors welcomed a batch of positive data on the economy. The Labor Department's weekly tally of applications for unemployment aid was less than expected, with claims slipping last week to 201,000. That's the lowest level since November 1969.

An economic index from the Federal Reserve's bank in Philadelphia also topped forecasts, and the Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators, designed to anticipate economic conditions three to six months out, rose 0.4 percent last month. While that came in slightly below forecasts, it still suggests the economy is on sure footing, said Tracie McMillion, global head of asset allocation for Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

"With a [reading] that high, it's very unlikely that there's a recession on the horizon," McMillion said. "The U.S. market is responding to this foundation of economic strength. Pair that with a dollar that has started to depreciate a little bit, and that's good news for U.S. companies that trade abroad."

Some of the biggest gains went to technology companies. Apple gained 0.8 percent to $220.03, while Microsoft climbed 1.7 percent to $113.57.

Health care companies also posted solid gains. Cardinal Health rose 2.3 percent to $55.17.

Under Armour jumped 6.6 percent to $20 after the athletic apparel company said it will cut 400 jobs, or 3 percent of its staff, and will spend more money on a restructuring plan. The athletic apparel company continues to chop costs and revamp its global operations, it said on Thursday. Under Armour eliminated nearly 300 jobs in 2017 as it consolidated operations. 

Homebuilders slumped after the National Association of Realtors said sales of existing U.S. homes were flat in August after declining the previous four months. Separately, mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said the average rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages jumped to 4.65 percent this week, the highest level since May. William Lyon Homes tumbled 7.8 percent to $17.20.

Canadian marijuana producer Tilray fell 17.6 percent to $176.35 a day after the stock soared 38 percent. Tilray shares rose as Thursday trading opened but slid more than 20 percent by midday, lopping roughly $4 billion off its market value in a matter of hours. The company's stock has soared more than 660 percent since going public on Nasdaq in July.  

Benchmark U.S. crude slipped 0.5 percent to $70.77 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oil, was down 0.9 percent to $78.65.

Bond prices rose, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury falling to 3.07 percent from 3.08 percent late Wednesday.