U.S. stock markets closed at a record high Thursday, as an encouraging weekly jobless claims report and upbeat corporate earnings topped expectations while the central bank's Ben Bernanke offered encouraging words in Washington.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, or SPX, gained 0.5 percent and closed at 1,689.40. The index surpassed its previous intraday high of 1,687.18 set on May 22. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 78.56 points, or 0.5 percent, to 15,549.08, also a record high. 

The markets were spurred by the Labor Department's weekly jobless benefits claims announcement, which indicated that the number of initial claims fell by 24,000 claims when compared to the prior week. 

Major companies also reported higher than expected earnings. Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), and International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) each reported higher-than-expected second-quarter earnings before the market opened. 

In addition, market activities benefitted from Bernanke's reassurance before Congress yesterday that there was no concrete timetable for the Fed to scale back its bond purchase program. Today, Bernanke spent another day on Capitol Hill to testify in front of the Senate Banking Committee and reiterated his main point in prepared remarks.