Stocks traded modestly higher amid weak economic news, falling oil prices, and a strong debut for LinkedIn's initial public offering.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained more than 35 points after snapping a three-day losing streakon Wednesday as oil prices gained.
Intel led the blue-chip average lower after news that Goldman Sachs downgraded the chip maker to "sell" from "neutral," citing slowing shipments on processors, rising competition and increasing capital expenditures. The brokerage also cut its overall view of the semiconductor sector to "cautious" and downgraded Applied Materials to "neutral" from "buy." Hewlett-Packard fell for a third day in the wake of a weak earnings outlook earlier this week. Citigroup cut HP's price target to $45 a share from $65.
TheS&P 500 traded flat, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq gained. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, fell below 16.
Among key S&P 500 sectors, health care and energy fell, while industrials gained.
The main reason the markets rose on Thursday in the face of Goldman's downgrade of Intel, and a host of weak economic news, was the success of the LinkedIn offering, said Todd Schoenberger, managing director at LandColt Trading.
"The markets would have crumbled today if not for the IPO," Schoenberger said.
In Schoenberger's view, the IPO doesn't represent a frothy market top like the Internet bubble of the late 1990s. Instead, he notes, "40 percent of hte company's revenues come from the services they sell to recruiters and their tools are very unique."
Stocks had weakened earlier in the session as investors digested a slew of economic news, much of it pointing to further signs of sluggishness in the economy.
One of the more optimistic reports was that initial jobless claims fell last week, although the four-week moving average of claims reached a six-month high.
"We are seeing improvements on the job front, but not to the extent we want to see," said Daniel Penrod, senior industry analyst at California Credit Union League.
Still, for individuals who remain unemployed, "there is no recovery without a job," Penrod says. "Until individuals are back, the overall feeling is going to be one of we're not there yet."
That was evident in Conference Board's index of leading indicators, which fell for the first time since June 2010. "While there weren't big moves expected, small positive moves is what we were hoping for," Penrod said. "Unfortunately there is still more uncertainty than people thought there would be."
Another factor in Thursday's markets is tomorrow's expiration day for stock index and equity options, which can lead to volatility as investors roll over contracts.
History has shown that the market often rises going into the day of expirations, said J.J. Kinahan, chief derivatives strategist at TD Ameritrade. "If you're long you are usually better off," Kinahan said.