* McDonald's up as China demand recovers
* Dow Chemicals rises, boosting materials sector
* Hospital operators tank
* Indexes up: Dow 1.7 pct, S&P 1.6 pct, Nasdaq 1.5 pct (Updates to late afternoon)
Oct 22 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks jumped on Thursday on stronger-than-expected corporate results from companies including McDonald's and cues from the European Central Bank about extending its stimulus program.
McDonald's shares jumped 8.2 percent to $110.96 after its quarterly results beat estimates as demand recovered in China.
Dow Chemical rose 4.6 percent to $49.68 after its results. The S&P materials index was up 2.5 percent.
ECB President Mario Draghi said the bank could extend its stimulus program beyond 2016 to boost euro zone growth and boost inflation closer to 2 percent.
"That's all that central banks have to do anymore. Just hint that they're going to throw easy money in there and it scares the shorts and enables the bulls and bang!, we've got these nice pops," said Jeff Clark, trading analyst at Stansberry Research.
At 2:56 p.m., the Dow Jones industrial average was up 294.5 points, or 1.72 percent, to 17,463.11, the S&P 500 had gained 31.54 points, or 1.56 percent, to 2,050.48 and the Nasdaq Composite added 70.64 points, or 1.46 percent, to 4,910.76.
Data on Thursday showed U.S. unemployment benefits claims rose by 3,000 to 259,000 last week, below the 265,000 expected, while existing home sales increased more than expected to an annual rate of 5.55 million units in September.
The Federal Reserve, which kept U.S. interest rates unchanged near zero in September, has said it will wait for signs of global economic resilience before pulling the trigger on its first rate hike in nearly a decade.
Microsoft's 3 percent rise ahead of its results on Thursday provided the biggest boost to the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq. Alphabet, AT&T and Amazon also report after the close.
EBay rose 13.6 percent to $27.50 and Texas Instruments was up 11.5 percent at $57.86 after better-than-expected results late on Wednesday.
The optimism even spread to companies with poor results on Thursday. Caterpillar reversed course to trade up 2.4 percent at $70.56, while 3M rose 4 percent to $155.83.
Nine of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher. Only healthcare appeared immune to the upbeat mood, declining about 1.2 percent.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,282 to 772, for a 2.96-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,716 issues rose and 1,054 fell for a 1.63-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 37 new 52-week highs and eight new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 78 new highs and 80 new lows. (Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch in New York and Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Don Sebastian and James Dalgleish)