GE rose after the conglomerate lifted its 2012 industrial revenue growth forecast to 10 percent, versus a prior forecast of between 5 percent and 10 percent. GE is the minority shareholder of NBCUniversal.
Hewlett-Packard held small gains even after Jefferies cut its rating on the tech giant to "underperform" from "hold" and lowered its target to $14 from $17. H-P stock hit its lowest level in eight years before rebounding in the previous session.
Apple gained nearly 2 percent, breaking a three-day losing streak. And Google advanced to all-time highs after Evercore raised its price target on the 14-year old search-engine giant to $860 from $750.
Among earnings, Discover Financial Services jumped after the credit-card provider posted earnings that topped expectations.
Nike , Accenture and Research In Motion are slated to post results after the closing bell.
On the M&A front, Sealy rallied after the mattress maker said it will be acquired by bigger rivalTempur-Pedic International for about $242 million and assume about $750 million in debt.
Hartford gained after the Wall Street Journal reported that Prudential is near an agreementto buy the financial services company's individual life insurance division.
On the economic front, the U.S. economy expanded at a tepid 1.3 percent annual rate, the slowest pace since the third quarter of 2011, according to the Commerce Department. Adding to woes, durable goods orders slumped by the most in 3-1/2 years in August.
And pending home sales dropped in Augustdue to a supply shortage, according to the National Association of Realtors.
“Market’s ignoring the poor data—it just supports the Fed’s thesis that QE was needed,” said Schoenberger. “The key economic report that everyone will be watching will be the unemployment report [at the end of next week].”
The only bright spot in today's slew of economic data was the weekly jobless claims figure. Claims for unemployment benefits fell to its lowest level since July, according to the Labor Department, while the four-week moving average for new claims snapped five straight weeks of increases.
Treasury prices held their lossesafter the government auctioned $29 billion in 7-year notes at a high yield of 1.055 percent and bid-to-cover of 2.61.
—By CNBC’s JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)
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FRIDAY: Personal income & outlays, Chicago PMI, consumer sentiment; Earnings from Walgreens
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