"We're off to a very strong start," Creatura said. "The dominant reason is the resolution of the fiscal cliff. But January is usually a strong month, as investors all shift money into the market at the same time. When the calendar flips, it's as if you're allowed to begin the race anew."
Economists had warned that the full force of the fiscal cliff could drag the country into a recession. The law passed late Tuesday night averted that outcome for now, but other fiscal squabbles are likely in the months ahead. Congress must raise the government's borrowing limit soon or be forced to choose between slashing spending and paying its debts.
In other Thursday trading, prices of U.S. government bonds fell, sending their yields higher. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.90 percent from 1.84 percent late Wednesday, a sign that some bond traders believe the Fed minutes hinted at an early end to its bond buying.
Family Dollar Stores sank 13 percent after reporting earnings that fell short of analysts' projections. The company also forecast a weaker outlook for the current period and full year. Family Dollar's stock lost $8.30 to $55.74.
Nordstom Inc. surged 3 percent after the department-store chain reported strong holiday sales, especially in the South and Midwest. Nordstrom's stock was up $1.64 to $55.27.
Among other stocks making big moves:
— Transocean jumped $2.96 to $49.20. The owner of the oil rig that sank in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 after an explosion killed 11 workers reached a $1.4 billion settlement with the Justice Department.
— Hormel Foods, known for making Spam and other meat products, said that it's buying Skippy, the country's No. 2 peanut butter brand, from Unilever for about $700 million. Hormel's stock jumped $1.19 to $33.20.