(REUTERS) - U.S. stocks rose on Thursday, as signs of strength in the economy and higher-than-expected profit at FedEx outweighed more warnings about Europe.
The U.S. equity market continued its familiar back-and-forth rotation between optimism about the U.S. economy and fears that Europe's debt crisis could spark a global recession.
Lately the fear trade has been winning, as Wall Street fell to its lowest level in two weeks on Wednesday.
But FedEx Corp boosted the market's sentiment. Shares shot up 8 percent to $82.47 after the package delivery company, viewed as an economic bellwether, reported stronger-than-expected quarterly profit.
The news from FedEx, along with two strong regional manufacturing surveys and other data, was welcomed after some high-profile companies recently warned about falling profits. On Thursday, Honeywell International said Europe's slowing economy would take a toll on orders. Honeywell's stock rose 1.7 percent to $52.41.
Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Asset Management in Bedford Hills, New York, said the question for investors is whether the U.S. economy can grow if European economies stalled.
Can the U.S. go it totally alone? No. But the rest of the world, with the exception of Europe, we are pretty positive about. We don't think it's going to fall apart, he said.
Data showed weekly applications for unemployment insurance fell to a 3-1/2 year low, while a gauge of New York state manufacturing activity rose to its highest level since May and another measure of factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region showed a surge in new orders.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was up 45.33 points, or 0.38 percent, at 11,868.81. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was up 3.93 points, or 0.32 percent, at 1,215.75. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 1.70 points, or 0.07 percent, at 2,541.01.
Trading was volatile ahead of Friday's quadruple witching expiration when not only equity options expire, but also stock index futures, stock index options and individual stock futures.
Earlier, stocks pared some of their gains after Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, said the world economic outlook is quite gloomy and will require action by all countries to head off an escalating crisis that carries risks of a global depression.
The market's gains were concentrated in defensive sectors such as utilities, suggesting uncertainty was causing risk-takers to put their portfolios in neutral as the week nears an end, said Chad Morganlander, portfolio manager at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co in Florham Park, New Jersey.
Unfortunately austerity without a plan for structural changes will cap economic growth and potentially could bleed into earnings. Going into the new year, portfolio managers are squaring their books for that scenario, Morganlader said.
There's a continued rotation into safety and stability in a global austerity environment.
Big-cap technology shares slipped, including Apple Inc off 0.3 percent to $378.94 and International Business machines , which fell 0.7 percent to $187.48.
Novellus Systems Inc jumped 16.3 percent to $40.37 a day after it agreed to be bought by larger rival Lam Research Corp for $3.3 billion in stock.
Michael Kors Holdings Ltd shares jumped 21 percent to $24.20 in their debut on the New York Stock Exchange after the luxury goods company went public at $20 per share on Wednesday, above the expected range. The stock climbed as much as 25 percent to a session high at $25.23.
About 6.72 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Amex and the Nasdaq. On the NYSE, advancers beat decliners by a ratio of 18 to 11, and on the Nasdaq, 13 shares rose for ever 10 that fell.
(Reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Kenneth Barry)