NEW YORK – U.S. stocks closed higher Thursday, clinging to advances as oil futures briefly topped $110 a barrel, after data illustrated ongoing improvement on the jobs front.

Early in the session, the major indexes managed to stay up after a gauge of manufacturing from the Institute for Supply Management showed expansion slowing in February.

Investors also shouldered reports late in the session that an explosion had destroyed oil pipelines in Saudi Arabia, pushing crude futures higher. Saudi Arabia said the reports were false, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

“The market doesn’t care about rising oil prices, it didn’t care about ISM, every dip is being bought,” said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at Miller Tabak.

The Dow Jones industrial average added 28.23 points, or 0.2 percent, to close at 12,980.30, with JPMorgan Chase & Co. leading blue-chip gains, up 2.9 percent.

“Nobody wants to be the first to leave the party for fear they’ll miss out on more good times, but nobody wants to be the last to leave, either,” Bob Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners, said of the market’s ongoing rise, which has the S&P 500 up 9.3 percent so far this year.

“It would probably be helpful for the market to have some sort of give back, because it would allow folks sitting on the sidelines to step in,” Pavlik added.

A day after wrapping up its best two-month start since 1987, the S&P 500 gained 8.41 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,374.09.

Financial companies fared the best, following a rally in European bank shares after Spain and France sold $16.7 billion of bonds.

Gap Inc. was among the retailers that reported better-than-expected February sales. Shares gained 7.2 percent, the best on the S&P 500. And shares of Ford Co. climbed after the auto manufacturer reported February sales jumped 14 percent.

The Nasdaq composite rose 22.08 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,988.97. Crude-oil futures rose $1.77 to settle at $108.84 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week fell 2,000 to 351,000, the lowest since March 2008. The four-week average dropped 5,500 to 354,000, the Labor Department said.

“We started February with the four-week average at 376,000, so that’s a significant move in a month’s time,” said Art Hogan, a strategist at Lazard Capital Markets.