U.S. stocks leaped Thursday as the Standard & Poor’s 500 hit its highest point in nearly four years. The surge came on reports that markets and manufacturing are performing stronger than expected. And while the S&P 500 crested near 1400, the Dow Jones rose 36 points in afternoon trading, keeping the industrial average on track for its seventh consecutive gain. The latest reports on the economy show that the number of workers filing for unemployment benefits has dropped, hitting levels not seen in the last four years. Taken together, analysts say, these are all indicators that the job market is improving and that the economy is moving steadily, if slowly, toward recovery.