* Jobless claims lowest in almost 15 years, oil prices rise
* Alibaba shares, Qualcomm shares tumble after results
* Indexes up: Dow 1.31 pct, S&P 0.95 pct, Nasdaq 0.98 pct (Adds Yellen report, Visa share move)
By Sinead Carew
NEW YORK, Jan 29 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks enjoyed a late afternoon rally and closed higher on Thursday as an upturn in oil prices and a rally in Apple and Boeing shares helped offset some disappointing earnings and lingering questions over U.S. monetary policy.
The S&P 500 had fallen as much as 0.6 percent earlier, led by energy stocks, which reversed direction along with oil.
While the afternoon rise in crude was not huge, it was enough to cheer up the market, said Randy Frederick, managing director at Charles Schwab in Austin.
"Technically the market was a little oversold, so we were in a pretty good position to bounce, so we just needed a little bit of positive news to spark an afternoon rally," he said.
The market has been advancing and retreating within a range of 200 to 300 points for some time as traders grapple with mixed earnings, a strong dollar and weak oil prices as well as interest rate uncertainty, said Dennis Dick, head of markets structure at Bright Trading LLC.
"There's a lot technical trading going on," he said. "When the fundamentals are confusing and the macro is confusing, you have to lean on the technicals."
Investors also continued to digest Wednesday's Federal Reserve statement, which failed to clarify when rates would rise.
Senate Democrats said Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told them at a private meeting this afternoon that the U.S. economy is strong but the U.S. was not going to raise rates immediately, according to reports.
Shares in Visa Inc rose 4.4 percent after the market closed when it reported better than expected earnings and a 4-for-1 split of its class A common stock.
Harman International shares rose 23.8 percent, making it the top S&P gainer after it beat profit and revenue expectations. Dow component McDonald's added 5 percent after announcing its CEO's retirement.
Shares in Chinese internet giant Alibaba Group fell 8.8 percent after revenue missed expectations and Qualcomm fell 10.3 percent after trimming its 2015 outlook.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 225.48 points, or 1.31 percent, to 17,416.85, the S&P 500 gained 19.09 points, or 0.95 percent, to 2,021.25 and the Nasdaq Composite added 45.41 points, or 0.98 percent, to 4,683.41.
Apple Inc closed up 3.1 percent and Boeing Co finished 5.8 percent higher.
Supporting stocks, data showed weekly applications for unemployment insurance fell to their lowest in almost 15 years, adding to bullish signals on the labor market.
The energy sector finished up 0.17 percent with U.S. crude oil turning around to settle up 8 cents at $44.53.
About 7.7 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, above the 7 billion average for the last five sessions, according to BATS Global Markets.
NYSE advancing issues outnumbered decliners 2,074 to 1,000, for a 2.07-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,823 issues rose and 893 fell for a 2.04-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 16 new 52-week highs and 26 lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 37 new highs and 101 lows. (Additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Phil Berlowitz)