Late morning, the Dow was up 134 points to 13,995. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 14 to 1,512. The Nasdaq composite index was up 31 to 3,173.
Auto sales helped. Toyota, Ford, GM and Chrysler all reported double-digit gains for January.
The government jobs report that pushed stocks forward was mixed, but traders chose to focus on the positive. The U.S. said it added 157,000 jobs in January, which was in line with expectations. Unemployment inched up to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in December. But, encouragingly, the government also reported that hiring over the past two years has been higher than it originally thought.
The jobs number is based on a survey of employers, and the unemployment rate is based on a separate survey of households, which is why they can diverge.
In Europe, tentative and incremental signs of a recovery were enough to push up stocks in France, Britain and Germany. December unemployment in the European Union was lower than analysts had feared, inflation unexpectedly fell, and a survey raised hopes of some growth in the manufacturing sector.
But there were also reminders that the debt problem is far from solved. The Netherlands was also forced to take over one of its major banks, to try to stave off a collapse. In Greece, dock workers extended a strike over the government's spending cuts.
Among companies making big moves:
— Drugmaker Merck fell 3 percent, down $1.28 to $41.97. Its fourth-quarter profit suffered because of competition from generic medicines against its blockbuster allergy drug Singulair.
— Insurance company MetLife rose 2 percent, or 75 cents, to $38.09, after saying it plans to buy the largest private pension fund administrator in Chile.
— Zoetis, an animal health business that Pfizer just spun off, made its debut on the stock market. It was up 18 percent, rising $4.75 to $30.75.