US stocks scored solid gains Thursday in thin pre-Christmas trade helped by encouraging data on the jobs market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 61.91 points (0.51 percent) at 12,169.65. The broader S&P 500 rose 10.28 (0.83 percent) to 1,254.00, while the Nasdaq Composite gained 21.48 (0.83 percent) to 2,599.45. Stocks were helped by new weekly data that confirmed a steady decline in jobless benefits applications, an indicator of slowing layoffs by US industry and government. "This is great news," said Ian Shepherdson of High Frequency Economics, pointing to a solid downward trend in claims for recent weeks. "One unexpectedly low number can easily be a fluke; two are interesting; three are telling us something real is happening in the labor market." General Electric shares led the Dow higher, rising 3.1 percent on the day the company closed the books to new beneficiaries for its next dividend payment, which carries an annual yield of about 3.8 percent. Shares of Mead Johnson Nutrition plunged 7.9 percent after reports suggested a possible link between its Enfamil infant formula and the death from a rare bacterial infection of a newborn boy. The formula has not been recalled by the government but Wal-Mart pulled it from its shelves out of caution. Big banks registered strong gains. Bank of America shares added 5.0 percent a day after the company agreed to pay a $335 million for race-based discrimination in pricing housing loans by its mortgage subsidiary, the former Countrywide Financial. Citigroup meanwhile pushed up 5.9 percent. On the Nasdaq, Akamai Technologies jumped 18.5 percent on the news that it would spend $268 million to buy Cotendo for its cloud computing technology. Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.95 percent from 1.97 percent late Wednesday, while the 30-year yield slipped to 2.98 percent from 3.00 percent. Bond prices and yields move in opposite directions.