Stocks rose on Thursday as a string of solid corporate profits and a drop in the number of Americans staying on jobless benefits fueled economic recovery hopes.

A broker upgrade for General Electric Co added to the positive tone. The market's surge propelled the benchmark S&P 500 index <.SPX> to its highest intraday level in about nine months as it extended its recovery from the 12-year low of early March and took aim at the psychologically important 1,000 level.

Companies posting solid results before the bell included mobile phone maker Motorola Inc , up 11.2 percent, insurance broker AON Corp , up 1.4 percent, industrial conglomerate Tyco International Ltd , up 4.3 percent, and MasterCard , up nearly 6 percent.

I guess the trend is our friend right now. The positive momentum is carrying through and earnings for the most part have been better-than-anticipated, said John O'Brien, senior vice president at MKM Partners LLC in Cleveland. I think that reflects that the economy is stabilizing.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 150.93 points, or 1.66 percent, to 9,221.65. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> rose 18.54 points, or 1.90 percent, to 993.69. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> climbed 35.79 points, or 1.82 percent, to 2,003.55.

Earlier the S&P 500 climbed to an intraday high of 995.23, it's highest level since early November 2008, and the Nasdaq hit its highest level since October 2008. The S&P 500 is now up 47.2 percent from the 12-year closing low of March 9.

Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits rose 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 584,000 in the week ended July 25, the Labor Department said, a touch above market expectations for a reading of 570,000.

However, the four-week moving average for new claims, considered to be a better gauge of underlying trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell by 8,250 to 559,000. This was the lowest level since late January.

Continuing claims -- the number of people staying on the benefit rolls after collecting an initial week of aid -- fell by 54,000 to 6.20 million in the week ended July 18, the lowest since early April

Goldman Sachs raised its recommendation on General Electric to buy, saying comments made by the chairman of a key congressional committee suggests a decreased chance of a break for the finance arm of the diversified industrial manufacturer.

U.S. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank in an interview with Bloomberg late on Wednesday suggested there was broadening support for regulatory reform that would not mandate the separation of GE Capital, Goldman analysts said.

GE shares rose 6.6 percent to $13.07, putting the stock among the Dow's top boosts. On Nasdaq, Apple Inc was the top boost, rising 2.5 percent to $163.99.

Visa Inc shares were up 2.7 percent at $68.60 after the world's largest credit card company posted stronger-than-expected earnings late on Wednesday.

But Exxon Mobil Corp shares fell 1.9 percent to $70.05 after the oil company reported a 66 percent drop in quarterly profit, which falling short of Wall Street expectations.

Investors later Thursday will watch a record $28 billion 7-year note auction from the U.S. Treasury, though there could be caution following poor demand for two government auctions earlier this week.

(Editing by Padraic Cassidy)