Stocks Rise; Dow Edges Toward All-Time High

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"While not negative any more, the weakness in fourth-quarter GDP still looks grossly exaggerated; other data, such as employment growth and the ISM indexes, suggest that the trend is at least 2%, perhaps better than that," Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, said in a note. "To some extent, the weakness in the fourth-quarter was pay back for what may have been exaggerated strength in the third quarter."

Overseas markets were mostly higher Thursday amid confidence that global central banks will continue to lend support to the economy. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi also said that he anticipates accommodative policies to continue.

The Nikkei Average in Japan finished ahead by 2.71% and the Hong Kong Hang Seng index finished up 1.96%. The FTSE 100 in London rose 0.55% and the DAX in Germany closed up 0.86%.

Gold for April delivery settled off $17.60 at $1,578.10 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while April crude oil futures were down 40 cents to $92.36 a barrel.

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The benchmark 10-year Treasury was rising 1/32, diluting the yield to 1.899%. The dollar was rising 0.37%, according to the U.S. dollar index .

In corporate news, J.C. Penney's (JCP) fourth-quarter loss widened from a year earlier as sales plunged almost 30%. Shares were plunging more than 15%.

Groupon (GRPN) , the daily deals company, missed Wall Street's fourth-quarter earnings estimates. Shares were plummeting more than 20%.

Sears(SHLD) posted fourth-quarter earnings of $1.12 a share on revenue of $12.26 billion as Sears' domestic comparable-store sales improved 0.8%. Analysts, on average, were expecting earnings of 98 cents a share on revenue of $11.77 billion.

Earnings beat expectations, but were primarily the results of cost cutting programs. Shares were slipping more than 4%.

Kohl's(KSS) projected full-year earnings of $4.15 a share to $4.45 a share, below the consensus target of $4.56 a share, after posting fourth-quarter profit of $1.66 a share on revenue of $6.342 billion. Analysts, on average, expected fourth-quarter profit of $1.63 a share on revenue of $6.24 billion. Shares were shedding 0.69%.

Wall Street expects software company Salesforce.com(CRM) to report quarterly earnings of 40 cents a share when it issues its results after the markets close Thursday. Shares were up more than 1%.

Molycorp(MCP) shares were unchanged at $6.24 a share after the company announced a delay in filing its 10-K report and its postponement of its fourth-quarter and full-year 2012 earnings call.

BroadSoft(BSFT) shares were plunging more than 28% after the software provider gave current-quarter projections that were below estimates amid expectations of lower consumer applications revenue during the year.

Babcock & Wilcox (BWC) shares were jumping more than 3% after the power generation technology company swung to a fourth-quarter profit, helped by adjustments in pension plans and increased revenue at its power generation and nuclear operations divisions.