NEW YORK, Sept 18 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were higher in afternoon trading Thursday, with the Dow and S&P 500 hitting fresh record highs after the U.S. Federal Reserve kept intact its commitment to keeping interest rates low.
The Fed said Wednesday at the conclusion of a two-day policy meeting it would keep interest rates near zero for a "considerable time," language supportive of equities which some had expected to be dropped from the statement.
But the central bank's outlook also included forecasts for higher-than-expected rates in 2015 and 2016, which lifted the financial sector 1.1 percent to lead the advance on Wall Street. Goldman Sachs, up 1.6 percent to $187.84, was the top boost to the Dow.
U.S. housing starts and permits fell in August, but upward revisions to the prior month's data indicated gradual improvement in the housing market. Separate data showing a sharp drop in the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits last week suggested the slowdown in job growth last month was probably an anomaly.
"The initial jobless claims were lower than expected and you would think that would be more of a hawkish thing but then housing starts were lower so it kind of mutes itself," said Joe Saluzzi, co-manager of trading at Themis Trading in Chatham, New Jersey.
"You get that kind of nice warm fuzzy feeling for now, but that's what people want - they want the Fed to do nothing."
The Dow Jones industrial average was rising 95.33 points, or 0.56 percent, to 17,252.18, the S&P 500 was gaining 8.77 points, or 0.44 percent, to 2,010.34 and the Nasdaq Composite was adding 28.04 points, or 0.61 percent, to 4,590.23.
The largest percentage gainer on the New York Stock Exchange was Penn West Petroleum, which was rising 9.39 percent, while the largest percentage decliner was Pier 1 Imports , down 18.98 percent.
Among the most active stocks on the NYSE were Bank Of America, up 2.18 percent to $17.14; Rite Aid Corp , down 17.77 percent to $5.46 and General Electric , up 1.07 percent to $26.33.
On the Nasdaq, Yahoo Inc, down 1.1 percent to $42.14; Vivus Inc, up 17.8 percent to $4.57 and NII Holdings, up 39.5 percent to $0.09 were among the most actively traded.
Advancing issues were outnumbering declining ones on the NYSE by 1,856 to 1,133, for a 1.64-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,707 issues were rising and 932 falling for a 1.83-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting 53 new 52-week highs and 7 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 69 new highs and 46 new lows.
Editing by Bernadette Baum