Weekly initial jobless claims rose 12,000 to 290,000, above expectations for 280,000 claims, but remained near a 14-year low, and stood for a ninth straight week below the 300,000 mark.
US stocks inched higher shortly after the open on Thursday, as the Dow and S&P touched new record intraday highs following earnings from Wal-Mart and data on the labor market.
"The four-week moving average of continuing claims was nearly unchanged at 2.373mn (previous: 2.372mn) and the insured unemployment rate remained at 1.8 percent," Barclays Research economist Jesse Hurwitz wrote via e-mailed analysis. "The Labor Department reported no special factors affecting this week’s data. The volatility in this morning’s report follows a series of strong readings in October, and we do not view early November data as indicative of a change in the overall direction of jobless claims. We expect initial claims to resume their downward trend in coming weeks as labor markets continue to strengthen."
Wal-Mart shares advanced 2.8 percent to $81.42 as one of the biggest boosts to both the Dow and S&P 500 after the retail giant posted a 2.9 percent increase in third-quarter revenue.
"What we've seen is the market kind of inching out little gains," said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois. "The market is just kind of tired."
The Dow and S&P 500 had ended slightly lower on Wednesday to break a five-day streak of record closing highs, while the Nasdaq managed to advance.
The S&P 500 has rallied more than 9 percent from a six-month low in October, buoyed by supportive economic data and corporate earnings. For the year so far, it is up 10.3 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 47.69 points, or 0.27 percent, to 17,659.89, the S&P 500 gained 3.84 points, or 0.19 percent, to 2,042.09 and the Nasdaq Composite added 13.76 points, or 0.29 percent, to 4,688.90.
J.C. Penney shares tumbled 9.4 percent to $7.03 after it reported a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss Wednesday but said same-store sales were flat and slightly cut its full-year revenue forecast.
Kohl's Corp lost 2.1 percent to $56.69. The department store operator reported lower-than-expected quarterly sales and profit.
As earnings season winds down, Thomson Reuters data showed that of 453 companies in the S&P 500 to report, 74.8 percent beat expectations, above the 63 percent average beat rate since 1994 and 67 percent for the past four quarters. Earnings overall were expected to grow 10 percent over the year-ago period.
DreamWorks Animation shares jumped 17.7 percent to $26.32 after the New York Times cited sources as saying toymaker Hasbro Inc was in talks to buy the Hollywood studio. Hasbro shares lost 4.5 percent to $54.91.
Berkshire Hathaway Inc said it would acquire Procter & Gamble Co's Duracell battery business. Procter shares were flat at $89.48 while Berskhire's Class B shares edged up 0.4 percent to $146.03.