U.S. stocks rose on Thursday, putting the S&P on track for its third straight advance after earnings from Bank of America and Morgan Stanley lifted financials and strong demand at European bond auctions eased concerns over Europe.

Bank of America Corp climbed 4.6 percent to $7.11 and was the top boost to both the benchmark S&P and the Dow Industrials. The bank swung to a fourth-quarter profit, helped by one-time items and lower expenses for bad loans. Morgan Stanley reported a quarterly loss that was narrower than expected, sending shares up 4.5 percent to $18.13.

With Wednesday's forecast-topping earnings from Goldman Sachs Group Inc , results from the three big financials lessened some concerns about the sector's exposure in debt-strained Europe.

Some analysts would not be surprised by a pullback in the S&P 500 from highs not seen since last July, especially after recent weak results from JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup Inc .

No question we've seen some encouraging news with earnings and Europe, but the question is whether we're getting ahead of fundamentals, said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank in Cleveland, Ohio.

Clearly things have improved, but it remains to be seen if there really has been a turn, or if this is just a January thaw ahead of more winter storms, McCain said. There are still a lot of parts of the world with significant problems and concerning trends.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was up 15.89 points, or 0.13 percent, at 12,594.84. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> added 4.99 points, or 0.38 percent, at 1,313.03. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> gained 20.39 points, or 0.74 percent, at 2,790.10.

Financial shares have rallied since the start of the year. The S&P financial index <.GSPF> is up 8 percent for 2012, helping to push the S&P 500 up more than 4 percent. The financial index was up 0.7 percent for the session.

In a sign of optimism about Europe, Spain and France both drew strong demand at government debt auctions.

The Nasdaq got a boost from eBay Inc , which reported better-than-expected results after the close on Wednesday. The stock was up 4.2 percent to $31.63.

After the close, quarterly reports are due from technology bellwethers Google Inc , International Business Machines Corp , Intel Corp as well as Microsoft Corp .

Transportation stocks moved higher after Union Pacific Corp reported higher quarterly profit and revenue that beat estimates. Union Pacific was up 3 percent to $113.05, while the Dow Jones Transportation Average <.DJT> gained 1.8 percent.

The number of Americans filing for new jobless benefits dropped to a near four-year low last week and factory activity in the Mid-Atlantic expanded, suggesting the economy maintained its momentum early in the year.

However, housing starts dipped, indicating the sector was still a ways from strengthening.

(Reporting By Ryan Vlastelica; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)