NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose in early trading on Thursday, with the S&P 500 at a fresh record intraday high following upbeat labor market data, while traders kept an eye on developments in Ukraine.
In a boost to riskier assets, the euro hit its highest against the U.S. dollar since late December after the European Central Bank kept interest rates on hold, shaking out bets of a cut in rates.
Crimea's parliament voted on Thursday to join Russia and its Moscow-backed government set a referendum for March 16 on the decision, in an escalation of the crisis between Russia and the West over the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula.
Moscow stocks lost more than 2 percent after the vote in Crimea but pared the losses and were down 1 percent. The ruble weakened 0.4 percent versus the U.S. dollar. A U.S.-traded Russian ETF (RSX.P) fell 0.6 percent to $23.52.
"Nobody wants to go to war and Russians don't want to get their market cut in half, so that eventually has to settle down," said John Manley, chief equity strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management in New York. He said the call for a referendum can be seen as a cooling in the crisis as politics prevail over a possible armed conflict.
European Union leaders were set to warn, not sanction, Russia. U.S. President Barack Obama ordered the freezing of U.S. assets and a ban on travel into the United States of those involved in the Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
Weekly applications for U.S. unemployment insurance fell to 323,000, the lowest in three months, a sign of strength in a labor market that has been hobbled by severe weather. New orders for U.S. factory goods, however, fell more than expected in January and shipments also slipped, adding to signs of a recent slowdown in manufacturing activity.
"Indicators have been so subject to distortion that you have try to find the explanation that makes the most amount of sense," Manley said.
"The basic fundamentals for the market are okay. Constraints that the weather imposed are temporary."
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 74.33 points or 0.45 percent, to 16,434.51, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 5.61 points or 0.3 percent, to 1,879.42 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 6.026 points or 0.14 percent, to 4,364.
Stocks in the basic materials, financials and industrial sectors, often associated with strong economic fundamentals, led gains on the S&P 500.
Costco (COST.O) shares fell 3.1 percent to $112.90 after the warehouse club operator's quarterly profit fell 15 percent, missing analysts' estimates.
Shares of Staples (SPLS.O) dropped 15.5 percent to $11.33 after the largest U.S. office supplies retailer forecast a fall in sales and said it would close up to 225 stores in North America by 2015.
Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski