Stocks rose for a third day on Thursday on relief that S&P's credit rating cut for General Electric was just one notch and that no further downgrades loomed, while data showed some stabilization in consumer spending.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc was among the Dow's top advancers after a government report showed sales at U.S. retailers fell by an unexpectedly small margin in February.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 239.66 points, or 3.46 percent, to 7,170.06. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> gained 29.38 points, or 4.07 percent, to 750.74. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> climbed 54.46 points, or 3.97 percent, to 1,426.10.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Jan Paschal)