By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged higher on Thursday, as investors grappled with a host of corporate earnings and muddled batch of economic data.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell less than expected as California continued to process a backlog of applications caused by computer problems.
Financial data firm Markit said its "flash," or preliminary, U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index grew at its slowest pace in a year this month and factory output contracted for the first time since late 2009. The survey was conducted partly during a 16-day U.S. government shutdown that economists expect will slow overall U.S. growth slightly in the last three months of 2013.
With a mixed bag of corporate earnings so far, any additional gains in the equity market will likely stem from expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve will continue its stimulus measures, which have propped up the equity market and economy for much of the year.
The S&P 500 <.SPX> has risen 1.5 percent since politicians in Washington ended a stalemate October 16 to avoid a debt default and end a partial government shutdown, culminating in a fresh record high on Tuesday, but the damage to the economy has led investors to expect the Fed to delay scaling back its stimulus for several months.
"With the market having hit the 1,760 level earlier this week, we should probably drift sideways for a while and consolidate," said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors in New York.
"We think the direction of the market is higher but we may have gotten to 1,760 too quickly and that is why we need to consolidate a bit."
Corporate earnings continue to pour in, with 47 S&P 500 components expected to report Thursday, including Microsoft Corp and Amazon.com Inc after the close.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 65 points or 0.42 percent, to 15,478.33, the S&P 500 gained 2.72 points or 0.16 percent, to 1,749.1 and the Nasdaq Composite added 11.438 points or 0.29 percent, to 3,918.512.
Dow component 3M Co rose 0.6 percent to $123.91 after it reported a 6 percent rise in quarterly profit with higher sales across all its businesses.
Visa Inc rose 1.6 percent to $202.03 as the top boost to the Dow after the credit card payment processor boosted its annual dividend.
Ford Motor Co rose 1.9 percent to $17.86 after the second-largest U.S. automaker boosted its full-year global earnings and margin outlook, helped by an improved forecast in Europe and better-than-expected results in the third quarter.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski)