NEW YORK (AP) — More encouraging economic news and friendly signals from the Federal Reserve cheered investors Thursday, as the stock market climbed to another record high.
The gains came a day after the Fed made clear that it's in no hurry to raise a key bank lending rate, easing a major concern for the stock market.
Eight of 10 industry groups in the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose, led by financial stocks.
"The question isn't 'Why are we up today?'" said Dan Veru, chief investment officer at Palisade Capital Partners in New York. "It's 'Why aren't we up a lot more?' What you're seeing is the U.S. economy growing at a modest pace, not too hot and not too cold."
Veru said it's an environment that allows the Fed to stick to a policy that coaxes businesses to borrow and spend and could fuel further gains for stocks.
Two of three major U.S. indexes finished at all-time highs: The S&P 500 index gained 9.79 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,011.36, while the Dow surged 109.14 points, or 0.6 percent, to 17,265.99. It was the second straight day the blue-chip index has closed at a record.
The Nasdaq composite, meanwhile climbed 31.24 points, or 0.7 percent, to 4,593.43, well below its dot-com era peak.
The S&P Financials sector rose 1.1 percent. Bank profits could rise if short-term rates stay low while the rates they charge on longer-term loans creep higher.
The day began with good news about the economy. Fewer Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week, according to the Labor Department. Weekly applications fell to 280,000, well below economists' forecasts. The four-week average, a less-volatile measure, also dropped.
Major markets in Europe headed higher as voters in Scotland decided whether to break from the United Kingdom. Germany's DAX advanced 1.4 percent, and France's CAC 40 gained 0.8 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 added 0.6 percent.
Scotland opened polling stations on Thursday for a referendum on whether the country should leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to become an independent state. Opinion polls have suggested the "Yes" campaign favoring independence is neck and neck with the "No" campaign that wants Scotland to stay in the U.K.
"A 'yes' vote is likely to weigh heavily on the sterling and equities," said IG strategist Stan Shamu in a commentary. "A 'no' vote should result in a relief rally and is likely to be positive for the sterling and equities."
The pound was trading at a two-year high against the euro at €1.27, and holding steady against the dollar at $1.64.
On Wednesday in the U.S., the Fed maintained its stance of keeping short-term interest rates near zero for a "considerable time." Investors had speculated that the Fed might hint at an earlier start for rate hikes.
Among companies making big moves on Thursday, Rite Aid plunged 19 percent after it cut its profit forecasts for the full year, laying part of the blame on higher costs for generic drugs. The drugstore chain still expects sales of $26 billion this year. Rite Aid's stock fell $1.23 to $5.41.
ConAgra said its quarterly profits nearly tripled, sending its stock up $1.47, or 5 percent, to $33.48. Sales for the company behind Chef Boyardee canned pasta and Hebrew National hot dogs were flat, but other costs fell.
Alibaba Group is expected to wrap up its mammoth initial public offering later Thursday, then make its debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday under the symbol "BABA." The Chinese e-commerce company could raise as much as $21.8 billion from institutional investors, making it the largest IPO on record in the U.S.
Elsewhere, Hong Kong's Hang Seng finished 0.9 percent lower and Japan's Nikkei 225 gained 1 percent as the yen traded at a six-year low against the dollar. Markets in mainland China, India and Southeast Asia also rose.
In commodity trading, prices for precious and industrial metals fell broadly. Gold dropped $9 to settle at $1,226.90 an ounce, and silver sank 22 cents to $18.52. Copper dropped 5 cents to $3.09.
The price of oil fell on expectations of a quick return of Libyan production and continuing signals of lower global demand. Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.35 to close at $93.07 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell $1.27 to close at $97.70 in London.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline fell 0.8 cent to close at $2.561 a gallon. Heating oil fell 3.3 cents to $2.712 a gallon. Natural gas fell 10.3 cents to $3.910 per 1,000 cubic feet
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — In a desperate bid to slow West Africa's accelerating Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone ordered its 6 million people confined to their homes for three days starting Friday while volunteers conduct a house-to-house search for victims in hiding.
At an emergency meeting, meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council unanimously called the crisis "a threat to international peace and security" and urged all countries to provide experts, field hospitals and medical supplies. It was only the second time the council addressed a health emergency, the first being the AIDS epidemic.
And in Guinea, seven bodies were found after a team of Guinean health workers trying to educate people about Ebola was abducted by villagers armed with rocks and knives, the prime minister said. Among the dead were three Guinean radio journalists.
Many villagers in West Africa have reacted with fear and panic when outsiders have come to conduct awareness campaigns and have even attacked health clinics.
The disease, which has also touched Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal, is believed to have sickened more than 5,300 people and killed more than 2,600 of them, the U.N.'s World Health Organization reported. In a sign the crisis is picking up steam, more than 700 of those infections were recorded in the last week for which data is available.
During the lockdown in Sierra Leone, set to begin at midnight Thursday and run through Sunday, volunteers will try to identify sick people reluctant or unable to seek treatment. They will also hand out 1.5 million bars of soap and dispense information on how to prevent Ebola.
Authorities have said they expect to discover hundreds of new cases during the shutdown. Many of those infected have not sought treatment out of fear that hospitals are merely places people go to die. Others have been turned away by centers overwhelmed with patients.
Sierra Leone's government said it has prepared screening and treatment centers to accept the expected influx of patients after the shutdown.
"Today the life of every one is at stake, but we will get over this difficulty if all do what we have been asked to do." Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma said in an address late Thursday.
As shoppers rushed to buy food and other items ahead of the deadline, some merchants worried about how they would feed their own families after losing three days' income. Much of Sierra Leone's population lives on $2 a day or less, and making ends meet is a day-to-day struggle.
"If we do not sell here we cannot eat," said Isatu Sesay, a vegetable seller in the capital. "We do not know how we will survive during the three-day shutdown."
The U.N. Security Council resolution was co-sponsored by an unprecedented 130 countries, reflecting the rising global concern.
"This is likely the greatest peacetime challenge that the United Nations and its agencies have ever faced," said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO chief.
She added: "None of us experienced in containing outbreaks has ever seen, in our lifetimes, an emergency on this scale, with this degree of suffering, and with this magnitude of cascading consequences."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a 20-fold increase in aid totaling almost $1 billion to deal with the crisis.
Several countries promised aid even before the resolution was adopted.
France announced Thursday it will set up a military hospital in Guinea in the coming days, while Britain said it will provide 500 more badly needed beds in Sierra Leone. The U.S. plans to send 3,000 military personnel to the region and build more than a dozen treatment centers in Liberia. An American general has arrived in the Liberian capital of Monrovia to set up a command center.
Ebola, which is spread through bodily fluids, puts health workers at a particularly high risk. Nearly 320 have become infected, and about half have died. A French nurse for Doctors Without Borders who became infected in Liberia was being flown to Paris on Thursday.
With no proven treatment for the disease, public health experts have kept the focus on isolating the sick, tracking down those they have come into contact with, and stopping the chain of transmission through travel restrictions, the cordoning off of entire communities and now Sierra Leone's lockdown.
Some patients have been given the blood of Ebola survivors in an experimental approach that some scientists think can help people fight off the virus.
British nurse William Pooley, who was infected while working in Sierra Leone and has since recovered, has flown to the U.S. to donate blood to an American patient.
Reached at his Atlanta hotel Thursday night, Pooley acknowledged he was there to donate blood to a patient at Emory University Hospital. But he — and hospital officials — declined to identify the patient or detail his condition.
PLACERVILLE, Calif. (AP) — A man with a lengthy criminal history has been charged with deliberately starting a Northern California wildfire that has shown explosive growth and driven nearly 2,800 people from their homes, authorities said Thursday.
Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, was arrested late Wednesday in Placerville and booked into El Dorado County Jail, where he was being held on $10 million bail.
Huntsman faces a forest-land arson charge, along with a special allegation of arson with aggravating factors because the blaze east of Sacramento put a dozen firefighters in serious danger, forcing them to deploy their fire shields. They all escaped unharmed.
The wind-whipped fire burned through 111 square miles and was 5 percent contained, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It closed part of a highway that runs to the Nevada state line near Lake Tahoe.
District Attorney Vern Pierson declined to say what led investigators to Huntsman, who was scheduled to be arraigned Friday. He also would not comment on a possible motive, saying the case was ongoing. Investigators were in contact with Hunstman before his arrest.
"It's something that's evolving at this point," Pierson said of the investigation. He did not know whether Huntsman had an attorney.
Huntsman's sister, Tami Criswell, said she doubts her brother started the fire, but if he did, it wasn't on purpose. Criswell said she and her brother were raised in Santa Cruz and often camped. She said her brother, who has worked in construction and private security, loves being in the forest and always was cautious with campfires.
"He's a really good guy," Criswell said. "He would never do anything intentionally to hurt anybody."
Yet, Santa Cruz authorities have a $5,000 warrant out for Huntsman stemming from a Feb. 27, 2013, arrest for resisting or obstructing a public officer. Officials said he has failed to show up for several court dates.
His arrest record in Santa Cruz dates back to 1996, according to court records. That year he was convicted of tampering with a vehicle, auto theft, driving under the influence, grand theft and assault with a deadly weapon, which resulted in a three-year sentence. He was sent to San Quentin State Prison.
In 2003, he was convicted in Plumas County of receiving stolen property, the new complaint says.
The blaze, which started Saturday, has been fueled by heavy timber and grass that is extremely dry because of California's third straight year of drought. It is costing $5 million a day to fight, Cal Fire officials said.
"It is extreme fire behavior," said Michelle Eidam, a captain with the Sacramento fire department who was helping with the blaze. "All bets are off right now because this fire is so volatile."
Many of the 12,000 threatened homes were in Pollock Pines, 60 miles east of Sacramento. Though the fire grew substantially late Wednesday and into the night, it burned mostly into wilderness land in the El Dorado National Forest away from the town, according to Cal Fire.
Fire officials said there were no reports of damaged or destroyed homes. Still, residents at an evacuation center said they were worried.
"We've been doing a lot of praying," said Sally Dykstra, who lives in a home in the middle of the fire area with her husband, Garry, 74, and her daughter, Stacie, 46.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday, freeing up funds for the two fires. He also secured federal grants to fight each of them.
Meanwhile, farther north in the town of Weed, officials released the final results of their damage assessment from a blaze that tore through the community Monday. City administrator Ron Stock said 143 homes and nine other buildings, including churches, were destroyed.
Officials previously said 110 homes were destroyed and 90 others were damaged.
Stock said he hopes the state will declare the burned debris hazardous waste to speed its removal and defray costs. The state would cover 75 percent of the cost and the city 25 percent if the debris receives that designation.
Residents were expected to be allowed to return to the burned areas once utility crews finished restoring power, water and telephone service.
The cause of the blaze was under investigation. The fire burned 375 acres, and more of half of it was contained.