A surge in hiring in the world's largest economy last month drove stocks higher on Friday, with the Nasdaq hitting an 11-year high as optimism grew that the labor market is on a steady path to recovery.

The broad-based gains on solid trading volume also sent the Dow Jones industrial near a four-year high. The S&P 500 extended its 2012 advance to about 7 percent.

The economy created jobs at the fastest pace in nine months in January and the unemployment rate dropped to nearly a three-year low of 8.3 percent, the government said.

It was just another report that shows that the economy is healing, said Wayne Kaufman, chief market analyst at John Thomas Financial in New York. Businesses that are in motion are doing pretty well.

More than 450 stocks across all sectors hit 52-week highs, including Apple , United Parcel Service , Yum Brands and MasterCard . The number of NYSE stocks making new 52-week highs was at its highest since July.

Kaufman said he was having a hard time identifying stocks that did not show signs of being overextended. Seventy four percent of stocks are over their own 200-day moving average. Those are bull-market statistics, he said.

Consumer discretionary shares and other stocks tied to an expanding economy led gains. Financial shares <.GSPF> rose 2.3 percent, while industrials <.GSPI> and discretionaries <.GSPD> added 1.7 percent to 1.8 percent.

In another report signaling strength, the pace of growth in the services sector unexpectedly accelerated in January to its highest level in nearly a year.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 148.08 points, or 1.17 percent, to 12,853.49. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> rose 18.32 points, or 1.38 percent, to 1,343.86. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> added 46.92 points, or 1.64 percent, to 2,906.60.

Signs of an improving economy and an absence of bad news from Europe have helped Wall Street stocks rally since last year.

So far this week the S&P is up 2 percent and on track for its fifth week of gains in a row. The Dow has risen 1.5 percent and the Nasdaq, also set for a fifth straight winning week, is up 3 percent and heading for the best week since early December.

Nonfarm payrolls jumped 243,000, the Labor Department said on Friday, as factory jobs grew by the most in a year. The jobless rate fell to 8.3 percent - the lowest since February 2009 - from 8.5 percent in December.

Four stocks rose for each one that fell on both the Nasdaq and NYSE. Volume on the NYSE, Amex, and Nasdaq was 5.41 billion shares, on course to exceed the daily 200-day moving average of 7.75 billion in a sign of greater participation than on recent days.

More than half way through the earnings season, 60 percent of S&P 500 companies that have reported have beaten expectations according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S data.

Gilead Sciences was one of the top gainers on the S&P 500, up 11.3 percent to $54.88 a day after announcing promising early results from a trial of a hepatitis C drug. It also posted adjusted fourth-quarter profit below consensus.

(Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by Kenneth Barry)