U.S. stocks edged up in choppy trading on Thursday, helped by jobless claims and same-store sales data, but technical resistance to further gains was strong.

The S&P 500 closed Wednesday above a key technical level and its ability to hold above 1,333.58 will be tested at the close. The level is double the cycle low hit in March 2009 and is near a recent 2-1/2 year high of about 1,344, which could become yet another technical hurdle.

There is an extreme level of bullishness, so there is an argument to make that the boat is already full, said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York.

The market is dealing with a lot of uncertainty near the highs; either we break through or we fail, and when you get that situation we see this kind of hesitancy.

New applications for unemployment benefits fell slightly more than expected in the latest week, according to a government report that pointed to firming labor market conditions.

Consumer shares will stay in focus as sales reports show March was not as bad as expected for U.S. retailers, suggesting that shoppers largely ignored higher gasoline prices and other concerns.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> edged down 1.78 points, or 0.01 percent, at 12,424.97. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> rose 1.84 points, or 0.14 percent, at 1,337.38. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> gained 9.45 points, or 0.34 percent, at 2,809.27.

Among retailers, Costco Wholesale Corp beat expectations and its shares gained 3.4 percent to $77.55. Macy's Inc rose 2.3 percent to $25.77 while Gap Inc fell 3.5 percent to $22.26.

Consumer spending is closely watched as it accounts for roughly two-thirds of economic activity in the United States.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Kenneth Barry)