RETAILER RALLY: Best Buy added 53 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $25.88 after its earnings came in well ahead of what investors were looking for. Dollar Tree gained $3.52, or 7 percent, to $53.52 after reporting that its income rose nearly 4 percent in the latest quarter as shoppers spent more at its discount stores. Dollar Tree's gain was the biggest in the S&P 500 index. L Brands, which owns store brands such as Bath and Body Works and Victoria's Secret, rose 65 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $56.51.
HOUSING BUMP: The National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing U.S. homes rebounded slightly in April, but the pace of buying remained below last year's level. Sales rose 1.3 percent from March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.65 million. Purchases of homes over the past 12 months have dropped 6.8 percent. The report helped drive shares in homebuilders higher, with Beazer Homes USA leading the pack. It rose 56 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $18.74.
ANALYST'S TAKE: "There's a bit of a positive tone that began this morning from the manufacturing numbers out of China, and then we got relatively decent numbers, a mixed bag, in the retail front," said Brad Sorensen, director of market and sector research at Charles Schwab.
Sorensen said the latest retail and housing data reinforce the view among investors that the economy is recovering nicely, though not charging ahead.
MARKET DEBUT: China's No. 2 online retailer, JD.com, made its debut on the Nasdaq, beating Chinese rival Alibaba to American stock market. Its stock jumped $1.54, or 8.1 percent, to $20.54. The two other Chinese Internet firms didn't do as well. Online marketplace 58.com fell $2.92, or 7 percent, to $38.80, while Weibo sank $1.87, or 9.2 percent, to $18.38.
NO LOVE: Sears Holdings reported a wider quarterly loss as sales slumped. Sears has been cutting costs, reducing inventory and selling assets as it tries to return to profitability. Revenue fell, partly because the company has fewer stores. Sears, which also operates Kmart, shed 78 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $35.78.
SECTOR CLOSE-UP: Nine of the 10 sectors in the S&P rose, with utilities posting the biggest gain. Consumer staples declined.
UP IN SMOKE: Lorillard sank $2.22, or 3.6 percent, to $60.40 following published reports that the tobacco seller could tie up with Reynolds American, creating the country's second-largest producer.
TEAM PHARMA: Several pharmaceutical stocks were among the biggest gainers in the S&P 500. Alexion Pharmaceuticals jumped $6.59, or 4.2 percent, to $163.10, while Regeneron Pharmaceuticals added $10.10, or 3.5 percent, to $301.30. Vertex Pharmaceuticals rose $3.76, or 5.6 percent, to $70.91.
ASIA: Thailand's currency sank Thursday after the country's military seized power in a coup. The Thai army chief's announcement came after the local stock market had ended its trading day with a slight gain. The Thai stock exchange said trading would open as usual on Friday.
In Japan, the Nikkei surged more than 2 percent, helped by the optimistic report on China's economy as well as minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve's last major meeting, which suggested the central bank was in no hurry to hike interest rates.
JOBS WATCH: The Labor Department reported that applications for unemployment benefits increased last week to a seasonally adjusted 326,000. A less volatile measure of unemployment claims, the four-week average, fell to 322,500. The average reached a seven-year low of 312,000 last month.
OTHER MARKETS: U.S. government bonds barely moved following the report on unemployment claims. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged up to 2.56 percent from 2.54 percent late Wednesday. Gold jumped $6.30 to $1,294.40 an ounce.