Stocks rose, likely boosted by a drop in jobless claims and an optimistic forecast by FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX), ahead of post-closing earnings reports from Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) and Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL).

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 41.78 points, or 0.36 percent, to 11,499.25. The S&P 500 rose 7.64 points, or 0.62 percent, to 1,242.87. The Nasdaq composite added 20.09 points, or 0.77 percent, to 2,637.31

The Labor Department said initial unemployment claims fell for the third time in four weeks (by 3,000 to 420,000).

The Commerce Department reported that housing starts rose in November to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 555,000.

FedEx gained 1.98 percent after it raised its outlook for 2011.

Consumer banks and card companies dropped dramatically after the Federal Reserve proposed a 12-cent cap on the debit-card fees. Visa Inc. (NYSE: V) sank 12.67 percent, while MasterCard (NYSE: MA) plunged 10.32 percent.

Bonds edged up as the yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped to 3.48 percent.

Oil futures slipped to $87.86 per barrel, gold futures dropped more than 1 percent to $1370.10 per ounce.

European/UK indices were mixed as Spain sold 2.4-billion euros worth of long-term government bonds and Ireland posted a 0.5 percent gain in third-quarter GDP.