* Initial claims dip, personal income and spending climb
* Market lauds remarks by Fed’s Dudley; Lockhart to speak
* ConAgra jumps after raising its outlook
* Indexes up: Dow 1.08 pct, S&P 1.03 pct, Nasdaq 1.01 pct
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, June 27 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks climbed on Thursday, putting the S&P 500 on track for a third straight day of gains, after data showed a decline in weekly jobless claims while consumer spending and incomes improved.
Investors were heartened also after William Dudley, head of the New York Federal Reserve, said the Fed’s asset purchases would be more aggressive than the timeline Chairman Ben Bernanke outlined last week if U.S. economic growth and the labor market turn out weaker than expected.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 in the week ended June 22 to a seasonally adjusted 346,000.
Consumer spending increased 0.3 percent last month after a revised 0.3 percent drop in April while incomes grew 0.5 percent, the largest gain since February.
The benchmark S&P 500 had dropped as much as 4.8 percent in the days following a June 19 statement from the U.S. Federal Reserve, when Chairman Ben Bernanke said growth was strong enough for the Fed to start slowing its stimulative bond purchases later this year.
However, the index has rebounded a little to climb 1.9 percent over the past two sessions as economic data and comments from Fed officials quelled fears over an earlier-than-expected pullback of stimulus.
“Nobody is sitting there and saying ‘here is the smoking gun that is going to prove that Bernanke has got to remove stimulus’,” said Gordon Charlop, managing director at Rosenblatt Securities in New York.
“The nervous money has hit the exits and the objective reaction to Bernanke’s comments is he really didn’t say anything that should spook the market.”
The Fed’s Dudley stressed on Thursday that the newly adopted timeline for reducing the pace of bond buying depends not on calendar dates but on the economic outlook, which remained unclear.
“I like the fact he is talking about the fact policy depends on the outlook, as opposed to don’t be thinking this is going to automatically happen at the next meeting, it’s not an automatic thing,” said Randy Warren chief investment officer at Warren Financial Service in Exton, Pennsylvania.
“Forecasts are just forecasts, tapering is going to depend on what actually happens in reality.”
Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart is due to speak on the economic outlook at 12:30 p.m. (1630 GMT).
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 161.24 points, or 1.08 percent, to 15,071.38. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained 16.50 points, or 1.03 percent, to 1,619.76. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 34.24 points, or 1.01 percent, to 3,410.46.
The National Association of Realtors said its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed last month, increased 6.7 percent to 112.3, the highest since December 2006, as buyers sought to lock in deals before interest rates ascend.
In corporate news, ConAgra Foods Inc rose 5 percent to $35 as the best performer on the S&P 500 after the food manufacturer reported a quarterly profit slightly ahead of Wall Street estimates and raised its long-term outlook.
Gold miner stocks advanced as prices of the precious metal edged higher following a 12-percent drop over the past eight sessions. U.S.-listed shares of Barrick Gold advanced 1.7 percent to $15.03 and the NYSE gold bugs index climbed 1.9 percent.