Stocks surged on Thursday, sending the Dow industrials above the key 9,000 mark for the first time since January, as strong corporate profits and rebounding home sales spurred optimism about the economy.

The broad-based rally helped all 10 of the S&P 500's

benchmark sectors finish the day in positive territory.

Strong profits from bellwethers such as diversified manufacturer 3M & Co and telecommunications company AT&T Inc provided further evidence that second-quarter earnings were more upbeat than initially thought.

The market extended opening gains after data showed U.S. existing home sales rose in June -- the first time since 2004 that this measure has risen three months in a row. The Dow Jones U.S. home construction index <.DJUSHB> jumped 4.9 percent.

The Nasdaq registered its 12th straight day of gains, its longest winning streak since 1992.

What I like about the rally that we've seen so far is the breadth of it. It's not really confined to a single sector. It's broadly spread. That gives me confidence, said John Coyne, president of Philadelphia-based Brinker Capital, with $8 billion under management.

It's been a wonderful run-up here. It's certainly helping to restore investor confidence, given the trauma that people went through.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> shot up 188.03 points, or 2.12 percent, to 9,069.29 -- its highest close since November 2008. It was its first close above 9,000 since January 2009.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> gained 22.22 points, or 2.33 percent, to 976.29. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> climbed 47.22 points, or 2.45 percent, to 1,973.60.

The string of good news helped the S&P 500 punch through a critical technical resistance level at 960, sparking a rally that lifted the benchmark index to 979.42 -- its highest intraday level in eight months.

That breakout, according to some analysts, was an indication that the S&P 500 could take aim at the 1,000 mark. The S&P 500 is now up 44.3 percent since its 12-year closing low on March 9.

3M's stock rose 7.4 percent to $69.43 and contributed the most to the Dow's gain, after the diversified manufacturer's profit handily beat analysts' expectations, and the company lifted its revenue outlook for 2009.

Blue-chip AT&T's stock gained 2.6 percent to $25.48 after it reported a smaller-than-expected drop in quarterly profit as strong sales of Apple Inc's iPhone helped increase wireless subscriber growth.

Among the Nasdaq's major advancers was eBay Inc , whose second-quarter results beat Wall Street's expectations. The online marketplace's stock shot up 10.6 percent to $21.52.

Only three of the 30 Dow components ended lower, including McDonald's Corp . The hamburger chain's stock fell 4.6 percent to $56.09 after it posted lower-than-expected June same-store sales and its quarterly profit matched Wall Street's forecasts.

Elsewhere, shares of Moody's Corp fell 3.8 percent to $25.52 following news that Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc reduced its stake in the credit ratings provider.

Before the bell, U.S. government data showed claims for jobless benefits rose last week, roughly in line with expectations, while continuing claims declined.

Companies scheduled to report quarterly results on Thursday after the bell included Inc , American Express Co and Microsoft Corp .

(Editing by Jan Paschal)