By Noel Randewich
(Reuters) - Wall Street moved higher on Thursday, adding momentum to a recent recovery as the energy and financial sectors emerged into positive territory for the year.
The S&P 500's increase was the most recent in four weeks of mostly steady gains that have left the index down 2.5 percent in 2016 after the worst January since 2009.
It was the second straight day that stocks strengthened late in the session, a pattern that some investors view as sign of improving sentiment. The S&P has gained in five out of the last seven sessions.
"That is a positive and I think there's reason to look at that with some hope,” said Andrew Bodner, president of Double Diamond Investment Group in Parsippany, New Jersey. But Bodner said he remains cautious following the market's recent volatility.
Earlier, a report showed that the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, but the underlying trend continued to point to a strengthening labour market.
Investors were also looking to Friday for a comprehensive labour report that is expected to show an addition of 190,000 jobs in February, up from a gain of 151,000 in January.
Brent crude prices, which are up about 35 percent from last month's lows, were largely steady.
The Dow Jones industrial average ended 0.26 percent higher at 16,943.56 points and the S&P 500 gained 0.35 percent to 1,993.39.
The Nasdaq Composite added 0.09 percent to 4,707.42.
Eight of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors gained, with the energy sector up 1.28 percent and financials up 0.63 percent, both climbing into positive terrain for 2016.
The financial sector has surged 13 percent in the past 14 sessions, although it remains down 7 percent in 2016. Investors fear that low oil prices will force energy companies to default on their debts.
The health index fell 0.35 percent, pulled down by a 1.91-percent dip in Celgene Corp.
Herbalife fell 7.02 percent after the multilevel marketer said it had overstated growth in the number of new members due to a database error.
Kroger dropped 7.01 percent after the largest U.S. supermarket operator's quarterly sales missed estimates.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,304 to 726. On the Nasdaq, 1,736 issues rose and 1,057 fell.
The S&P 500 index showed 16 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 39 new highs and 20 new lows.
Volume hit 8.8 billion shares, matching the daily average in the past 20 sessions.
(Additional reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by James Dalgleish and Nick Zieminski)