* ECB cuts rates to support flagging euro zone economy
* U.S. jobless claims fall to five-year low
* PHLX semiconductor index hits 2-yr high, Facebook advances
* Indexes up: Dow 0.9 pct; S&P 1 pct; Nasdaq 1.4 pct
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, May 2 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks advanced about 1
percent on Thursday as data pointed to improved labor market
conditions a day before the closely watched payroll report,
while the European Central Bank took steps to shore up the euro
Jobless claims fell sharply in the latest week, dropping to
their lowest since the early days of the 2007-09
The data follows a string of underwhelming reports,
including a slow rate of growth in factory activity in the
United States and China, which added to concerns about the pace
of growth going into the April jobs report. Analysts are looking
for 145,000 jobs to have been added in the month, up from the
88,000 added in March.
"U.S. markets are very focused on jobs, and the claims
report suggests the positive trend of hiring could be
continuing," said Weyman Gong, chief investment strategist at
Signature in Norfolk, Virginia.
In an effort to boost the recession-hit euro zone economy,
the ECB cut interest rates for the first time in 10 months and
held out the possibility of further action. The move follows
Wednesday's Federal Reserve statement in which the Fed said it
will continue its bond buying scheme to keep interest rates low
and spur growth, and would step up purchases if
"This shows that central banks are very determined to ensure
that the system is stable and that the global economy continues
to be propped up if needed," said Gong, who helps oversee about
$2.5 billion. "This makes us very comfortable with U.S. markets
for the rest of the year."
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 129.59
points, or 0.88 percent, at 14,830.54. The Standard & Poor's 500
Index was up 15.68 points, or 0.99 percent, at 1,598.38.
The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 44.50 points, or 1.35
percent, at 3,343.63.
The S&P fell almost 1 percent Wednesday in its largest drop
in two weeks. The benchmark earlier hit its record high intraday
level at 1,598.58 and is up nearly 12 percent so far this year.
The Nasdaq advanced on strength large-cap tech shares like
Apple Inc, which rose 2 percent to $448.11, and
Amazon.com Inc, up 1.6 percent to $252.13. The PHLX
semiconductor index rose 1.1 percent after earlier
hitting its highest level in two years.
Also boosting tech shares was Facebook Inc, which
jumped 5.1 percent to $28.83 after posting strong mobile
advertising revenue growth in the first quarter.
Visa rose 5.9 percent to $175.88 a day after reporting
strong quarterly results and growth in the key U.S. market. The
stock earlier advanced to an all-time high.
General Motors rose 3.7 percent to $31.29 after
reporting a stronger-than-expected quarterly profit as its North
American business improved and its loss in Europe was smaller
than Wall Street estimated.
With 76 percent of the S&P 500 having reported, 68.5 percent
have topped profit expectations, more than the 67 percent
average over the past four quarters. However, only 45.6 percent
have topped revenue expectations, below the 52 percent beat rate
over the past year.
Gilead Sciences shares jumped 5 percent to $52.67
after its combination hepatitis C pill proved effective in a