NEW YORK (AP) -- Better news on the job market and home sales sent stocks higher on Wall Street.

The four-week average of unemployment claims fell to a three-and-a-half-year low, an indication that hiring could pick up. Also the number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes in November rose more than 7 percent to the highest level in a year and a half.

With just one day of trading left in 2011, the Dow Jones industrial average closed up 136 points, or 1.1 percent, at 12,287 Thursday.

The S&P 500 rose 13 points, also 1.1 percent, to 1,263. The Nasdaq composite index rose 24, 1 percent, to 2,614.

Volume on the New York Stock Exchange was 2 billion shares, half of its recent average. Gaining stocks led losing ones four to one.

© 2011 The Associated Press