By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Brent crude prices hit $70 a barrel on signs of tightening crude stocks but settled off that level on Thursday, while a jump in energy shares helped lift U.S. stocks.
The S&P energy index jumped 2 percent, leading gains among S&P sectors. Optimism about upcoming U.S. earnings also helped U.S. stocks, which resumed their 2018 rally to hit record closing highs.
"The unifying factor of today's move and this whole week is a heightened confidence in the pace of economic activity. That helps explain the demand picture which has oil up at $70," said Scott Clemons, chief investment strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman, in New York.
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Brent crude futures settled 6 cents higher at $69.26, after hitting $70.05 during the session, its highest level since November 2014. Brent's settlement still represents a three-year closing high.
Brent has gained 5 percent since the beginning of the year, picking up from its late-year surge. U.S. crude settled at $63.80, up 23 cents, the highest since December 2014.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 205.6 points, or 0.81 percent, to 25,574.73, the S&P 500 gained 19.33 points, or 0.70 percent, to 2,767.56 and the Nasdaq Composite added 58.21 points, or 0.81 percent, to 7,211.78.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index lost 0.26 percent and MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.38 percent.
The euro jumped against the dollar as the European Central Bank signaled it could begin to wind down its 2.5-trillion euro stimulus program this year.
The ECB should revisit its communication stance in early 2018, accounts of its December meeting showed, suggesting that policymakers could soon start preparing markets for the end of the bank's massive stimulus.
The dollar index fell 0.44 percent, with the euro up 0.7 percent to $1.2029.
U.S. Treasury yields fell after China disputed a report that its government officials had recommended the country slow or halt its purchases of the U.S. bonds. The Bloomberg News report had lifted yields on the 10-year government bond to a 10-month high on Wednesday.
Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 4/32 in price to yield 2.5367 percent, from 2.549 percent late on Wednesday.
Bitcoin was 4.8-percent lower at $14,168.95 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange after South Korea's government said it plans to ban cryptocurrency trading.
(Additional reporting by Marc Jones in London and Saqib Iqbal Ahmed and Sinead Carew in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Diane Craft)