U.S. stocks were little changed on Thursday after results from FedEx Corp tumbled and several economic reports pointed to a fragile recovery.

Trading was choppy a day after Wall Street hit 2009 highs on optimism about a global recovery. Stocks have risen eight of the last nine sessions on strong data and a pickup in merger and acquisition activity.

Shipping company FedEx, considered an economic bellwether, slid 3 percent to $75.88 after it reported first-quarter earnings that fell 53 percent from the prior year. The company also said it was planning rate increases to offset falling surcharge revenue.

Data on housing and Mid-Atlantic business activity included gains, but parts of the reports raised caution flags.

In another report the number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits fell unexpectedly last week.

The employment trends continue to improve, but we're still not anywhere near what our economy is capable of, said Rob Stein, managing partner at Astor Asset Management in Chicago.

Business activity in the Mid-Atlantic states jumped more than expected in September, advancing to its highest level since June 2007, but indexes on orders and employment fell.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank data is encouraging, but there are lingering concerns that the employment trend in the pipeline isn't as robust as the market might suggest. I'm expecting a consolidation, Stein said.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 27.05 points, or 0.28 percent, to 9,818.38. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> added 2.32 points, or 0.22 percent, to 1,071.13. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> rose 4.32 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,137.49.

New U.S. housing starts and permits increased to their highest level since November, largely due to a big gain in multifamily starts.

Without the rally we had earlier this week, I think we'd have a lot more upside today, said Alan Lancz, president of Alan B. Lancz & Associates in Toledo, Ohio.

The markets are starting to discount optimism, and if the market didn't reflect this, we'd definitely have at least a triple-digit gain in the Dow.

Weighing on the Nasdaq was Oracle Corp , which fell 2.8 percent to $21.51 a day after reporting first-quarter revenue that missed expectations.

Discover Financial gained 4.6 percent to $16.03 after it reported a third-quarter profit that was above consensus.

Friday marks the quarterly expiration and settlement of four different types of September equity futures and options contracts -- a convergence known as quadruple witching.

The event can lead to greater volume and volatility as traders unwind positions.

(Editing by Kenneth Barry)