Cisco helped lead the market higher Thursday. Image source: Cisco Systems.

The stock market continued its march toward new record highs on Thursday as investors celebrated positive news on multiple fronts. Earnings season continued to go well, with solid results from several key companies. Merger and acquisition activity has also picked up as companies look for strategic moves to bolster their future prospects. As of 11:15 a.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) were up 56 points, bringing the average to within 140 points of its all-time closing high. Yet looking more deeply at both the Dow and the broader market revealed some even bigger winners that helped lead the stock market higher.

Dow component Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) soared more than 8% after reporting its fiscal second-quarter financial results last night. The networking giant saw sales climb 7% to $11.9 billion, while its adjusted earnings climbed 13% to $0.53 per share, beating analyst expectations by $0.02. CEO John Chambers celebrated the results, arguing that Cisco's transformation reflects its "leadership position in the key technology transitions of cloud, mobility, big data, security, collaboration, and the Internet of Everything." The tech giant also boosted its dividend by more than 10%, bringing its yield to about 3%. For long-struggling shareholders who have seen Cisco repeatedly give gloomy forecasts of the company's future, today's results were highly reassuring that Cisco has the potential to regain its former glory atop the tech sector.

Source: Orbitz.

Elsewhere, Orbitz Worldwide (NYSE: OWW) jumped 21% after Expedia (NASDAQ:EXPE) agreed to buy its rival online travel site for $1.34 billion in cash. Expedia will pay $12 per share for Orbitz, which represents a 25% premium to the stock price as of market close on Wednesday. For Orbitz, the buyout ends a frustrating eight years during which the company's share price slowly eroded after its 2007 spinoff returned the stock to the public markets. For Expedia, though, the move adds to the company's momentum after it sealed a deal last month to acquire Travelocity. Expedia shares jumped 14% as its investors also applauded the move and its importance in the highly competitive online travel space.

Source: Ballard Power.

Finally, Ballard Power Systems (NASDAQ:BLDP) climbed 8% after a huge 60% surge Wednesday. The fuel-cell specialist announced yesterday that automaker Volkswagen had reached a deal to buy some of Ballard's intellectual property related to automotive-industry fuel cells for $80 million. The deal also includes an extension of its engineering services contract with Volkswagen for two years, which Ballard CEO Randy MacEwen argues "reflects a growing positive sentiment toward fuel cells within the automotive sector." Ballard has had its ups and downs along with the rest of the fuel-cell sector, but the Volkswagen deal could spark new interest in the industry.