Stocks rose on Thursday as investors returned to financial and technology shares on bets the recent rally could have more room to grow after a brief pullback.

Volume, however, was light, a possible indication of a lack of broad conviction.

Technology gains were led by big-cap tech and semiconductor companies after five straight days of losses for the PHLX Semiconductor index <.SOXX>. Apple Inc was among the top boosts on Nasdaq, rising 2.9 percent to $122.95, while the PHLX index climbed 3.2 percent.

The surge in U.S. markets over the past two months has made investors who missed the rally anxious to get back into stocks, analysts said.

We've had a bit of a correction over the last couple days and people may be going in there and adding a bit, which makes the gains sustainable, said Kurt Brunner, portfolio manager at Swarthmore Group in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Defensive stocks such as consumer staples and healthcare also gave a lift, underscoring some of the lingering worry about the economy following a report that showed a jump in weekly jobless claims.

Coca-Cola Co was among the Dow's biggest lifts, up 2.9 percent at $44.90, and Merck & Co Inc added 1.5 percent to $26.05.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> added 46.43 points, or 0.56 percent, to 8,331.32. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> gained 9.15 points, or 1.04 percent, to 893.07. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> climbed 25.02 points, or 1.50 percent, to 1,689.21.

The gains in financials and technology were striking, coming shortly after some analysts said the very same sectors would likely lead the market lower, having underpinned its run-up since March.

Shares of semiconductor companies got a lift after Bank of America-Merrill Lynch raised its rating and price target on shares of Novellus Systems citing cost cutting and attractive valuations. Novellus, which provides equipment to the semiconductor industry, rose 7.1 percent to $16.88.

Financial shares gained, including JPMorgan & Chase & Co , up 4.4 percent to $35.54, and Bank of America Corp , up 2.7 percent to $11.31. Bank stocks have been a large part of the recent rally as investors bet that the sector had seen the worst of the credit crisis.

The S&P 500 is up 32 percent from the bear market low on March 9, but is down nearly 4 percent for the week as investors reassessed the economic outlook.

Data showed the number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits rose more than expected in the latest week, pushed up by plant shutdowns related to Chrysler's bankruptcy.

The report came on the heels of Wednesday's figures showing consumers were still reluctant to spend and reviving worries over the length of the recession after optimism that the downturn was showing signs of abating.

United Technologies Corp was among the Dow's top boosts, up 1.8 percent at $51.51. The world's largest maker of elevators and air conditioners said order rates had stabilized and it was starting to see early signs of recovery in China.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc reported flat first-quarter earnings in line with analysts' estimates. Its chief executive said overall business at the world's largest retailer was stable, adding that until unemployment eased, it remained cautiously optimistic about a timetable for the economic recovery.

Wal-Mart shares were off 1.9 percent to $49.10.

Trading was moderate on the New York Stock Exchange, with about 1.52 billion shares changing hands, above last year's estimated daily average of 1.49 billion, while on Nasdaq, about 2.22 billion shares traded, below last year's daily average of 2.28 billion.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,172 to 847 while advancers beat decliners on the Nasdaq by about 1,825 to 838.

(Editing by Leslie Adler)