US STOCKS-S&P nears 1,600 boosted by data, ECB move
* ECB cuts rates to support flagging euro zone economy
* U.S. jobless claims fall to five-year low
* PHLX semiconductor index hits 2-yr high
* Indexes up: Dow 0.8 pct; S&P 1 pct; Nasdaq 1.3 pct
By Rodrigo Campos
NEW YORK, May 2 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose on Thursday, with the S&P at a fresh intraday high, after strong job market data and on hopes the first rate cut by the European Central Bank in 10 months will help shore up the euro zone economy.
The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell sharply last week to a five-year low. That follows a recent string of underwhelming data, including a slow rate of growth in factory activity in the United States and China.
In an effort to boost the recession-hit euro zone economy, the ECB cut interest rates for the first time in 10 months and held out the possibility of further action.
The ECB move follows Wednesday's Federal Reserve statement in which the U.S. central bank said it will continue its bond buying scheme to keep interest rates low and spur growth, and added it would step up purchases if needed.
Market participants shifted focus this week to macroeconomic news as some of the biggest U.S. companies have already reported earnings, according to Art Hogan, managing director at Lazard Capital Markets in New York.
"Three-fourths of the macro concerns this week have been positive. Factory activity was not anything to write home about, but the Fed, the ECB and now jobless claims were good," he said.
"With a macro focus, the market seems to not be finding any resistance."
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 119.57 points or 0.81 percent, to 14,820.52, the S&P 500 gained 14.98 points or 0.95 percent, to 1,597.68 and the Nasdaq Composite added 44.31 points or 1.34 percent, to 3,343.44.
The S&P fell almost 1 percent Wednesday in its largest drop in two weeks. The benchmark earlier hit its record high intraday level at 1,598.58 and is up nearly 12 percent so far this year.
Visa hit a record high of $179.66, a day after the world's largest credit and debit card network reported strong quarterly results and rising growth in the key U.S. market. Shares were last up 5.8 percent to $175.66.
In a boost to the technology sector, the PHLX semiconductor index rose 1.1 percent after earlier hitting its highest level in two years.
General Motors rose 4.1 percent to $31.43 after reporting a stronger-than-expected quarterly profit as its North American business improved and its loss in Europe was smaller than Wall Street estimated.
Gilead Sciences shares jumped 5.2 percent to $52.76 after its combination hepatitis C pill proved effective in a small trial.
Shares of Facebook Inc jumped 4.8 percent to $28.75 after the social network said late Wednesday its mobile advertising revenue growth gained momentum in the first three months.
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