NEW YORK Stocks ended slightly higher on Thursday after the Bank of Japan announced aggressive, market-lifting policies to jump-start its economy, but weak jobs data capped gains.
The BOJ's surprisingly dramatic stimulus plan came along with supportive comments from European and Federal Reserve officials, suggesting central bank policies will keep underpinning the world's economy to the benefit of stocks.
The iShares MSCI Japan Index exchange-traded fund (EWJ.P) jumped 4 percent to $10.89, while U.S.-listed shares of Toyota Motor (TM.N) climbed 4.7 percent to $105.63 and WisdomTree Japan ETF (DXJ.P) jumped 7.5 percent to $43.88.
The financial sector was among the best performing, with the S&P 500 financial index .SPSY up 0.9 percent.
The Fed's stimulus efforts along with signs of improvement in the U.S. economy have helped stocks rally since the start of the year. While the S&P 500 broke above its closing record last week, it has yet to surpass its intraday record high of 1,576.09, and investors have mostly pulled back from the market this week.
"The Fed officials certainly have been going out of their way to point out that they're staying the course and sticking with their program, which has probably been reassuring for markets," said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois.
An unexpected jump in U.S. weekly jobless claims to a four-month high raised questions about the labor market's recovery a day ahead of the U.S. government's widely watched monthly jobs report. A report on Wednesday showed U.S. companies hired at the slowest pace in five months in March.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was up 55.76 points, or 0.38 percent, at 14,606.11. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX gained 6.29 points, or 0.40 percent, at 1,559.98. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was up 6.38 points, or 0.20 percent, at 3,224.98.
The S&P 500 is up 9.4 percent since the start of the year.
Among the latest comments from Fed officials, Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, suggested the Fed's program to stimulate the economy would continue for at least a few more months.
Charles Evans, head of the Chicago Fed and an influential dove at the central bank, said rates could stay at rock bottom until the unemployment rate falls to 5.5 percent from the current 7.7 percent.
Overseas, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi opened the door to an interest rate cut as soon as next month.
Retailer Best Buy Co Inc (BBY.N) was the S&P's top percentage gainer, jumping 16.1 percent to $25.13 after saying it would offer a 30 percent discount on its current stock of Apple (AAPL.O) iPad 3 tablets in the United States.
Shares of Facebook (FB.O) rose 3.1 percent to $27.07 in heavy volume after it unveiled a new family of phone applications that will let users display mobile versions of their newsfeed and messages on the home screen of a wide range of devices based on Google's Android system.
Analysts said the move could divert users from Google's (GOOG.O) services. Its shares fell 1.4 percent to $795.07.
The jobless claims data was the latest bit of disappointing economic news. Jobless claims jumped to 385,000 in the latest week, confounding expectations that claims would drop by 7,000 to 350,000.
Friday's Labor Department report is expected to show 200,000 jobs were created last month, according to a Reuters survey. The unemployment rate is expected to remain at 7.7 percent.
After the closing bell, shares of network gear maker F5 Networks (FFIV.O) fell 15.6 percent at $76.30 after it estimated results would be below analysts' expectations.
Earnings forecasts have declined heading into first-quarter reports, which are due to begin next week with Alcoa (AA.N). S&P 500 earnings are expected to have risen just 1.6 percent from a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data, down from a January 1 growth forecast of 4.3 percent.
If the majority of results beat expectations, as has been the trend, "there's a good chance we could see the markets resume their upward trend," said Jankovskis.
Volume was roughly 6 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the 2012 average daily closing volume of about 6.45 billion.
Advancers outpaced decliners on the NYSE by about 9 to 5 and on the Nasdaq by roughly 5 to 3.
(Editing by Kenneth Barry and Nick Zieminski)