The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) had gained more than 68 points as of 11:30 a.m. EST. Dow Jones component Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) was leading the index, up almost 1%. At the same time, 3-D printing stocks were getting a big boost, with both Voxeljet (NYSE:VJET) and 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) each rallying about 5% early in the session.

Jobless data comes in better than expected
With many markets around the globe (including most of Europe) closed on Thursday, economic data was light. Still, there was one notable bit of good news: U.S. jobless data came in better than expected, suggesting the labor market is improving faster than economists anticipated.

Last week's initial jobless claims number came in at 338,000, less than the 345,000 economists had expected. Although the weekly number tends to fluctuate, and is not as highly regarded as the monthly nonfarm payroll report, Thursday's jobless report may have contributed to the Dow's move to the upside.

Microsoft leads the Dow higher
Microsoft rallied a bit more than 0.80% early in the session. There didn't seem to be much news to explain the move -- there were no major ratings changes or bits of news that otherwise would have accounted for a gain in a company with such a large market cap.

Microsoft's rally might simply have been random noise. Perhaps investors are hopeful that the company would name a new CEO early in 2014, or believe that the recent holiday shopping season was good to Microsoft's products, including the Xbox One and Windows-powered PCs.

3-D printing outperforming on Thursday
Like Microsoft, 3-D printing stocks were trading higher on Thursday, and like Microsoft, there didn't seem to be much news to account for the move. 3D Systems was up 6%, while Voxeljet was up a slightly less impressive 4%.

At any rate, longtime investors in the 3-D printing space should expect such volatility by now. 3D Systems' shares have rallied more than 150% year to date, but experienced sharp drops along the way. Meanwhile, Voxeljet is up better than 20% since it began trading in October, but had been around $68 per share in November. It was priced at just above $40 on Thursday. 

On Tuesday, the most recent trading session, 3D Systems' shares dropped at the open and stayed muted throughout the session. With the gain on Thursday, shares are about back to where they closed on Monday. Volxejet didn't experience such a drop on Tuesday, but may have been pulled higher on Thursday alongside 3D Systems.

Sam Mattera has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems. The Motley Fool owns shares of 3D Systems and Microsoft and has the following options: short January 2014 $20 puts on 3D Systems. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.