Strong corporate earnings led Wall Street to a 29-month closing high for a second day on Thursday, but another run of big gains may be harder to achieve.

The Dow and the S&P struggled to advance past major technical levels -- the 12,000 mark for the Dow and 1,300 for the S&P -- but investors see more gains for companies that outperform in their earnings.

Microsoft Corp posted a small dip in quarterly profit, but the stock rose as much as 2 percent after the earnings report, which came earlier than expected. The tech bellwether helped the sector to outperform the broad market for a second day.

Microsoft's stock ended regular trading up 0.3 percent at $28.87.

Other technology stocks, such as Netflix and Qualcomm, supported the Nasdaq, but disappointing results from blue chips AT&T and Procter & Gamble kept the Dow's advance in check.

What's healthy is that companies that come out with good reports are being rewarded and those that are not are getting

punished, said Randall Warren, president at Warren Financial Service in Philadelphia.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> finished up 4.39 points, or 0.04 percent, at 11,989.83. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> closed up 2.91 points, or 0.22 percent, at 1,299.54. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 15.78 points, or 0.58 percent, at 2,755.28.

Movie-rental company Netflix Inc soared 15.2 percent to $210.87 and electronics test equipment maker Teradyne Inc jumped 11.8 percent to $16.35. Both posted results Wednesday after the close.

Dow components AT&T and P&G
fell as their profits slid from the year-ago period. AT&T dropped 2.1 percent to $28.13, while P&G lost 2.9 percent to $64.18.

The market is not viewing everything as being correlated, like it used to before, Warren said.

The S&P 500 faces technical resistance near 1,300, an area where closing and session highs clustered during August 2008. Technical analysts also view 12,000 on the Dow as a possible sell trigger as the blue-chip average approaches nine straight weeks of gains.

The S&P has risen 2 percent since the start of the earnings season and is up 23.7 percent since September 1. Various technical measures indicate the market may be overstretched.

Qualcomm Inc also helped lift the Nasdaq, rising 5.8 percent to $54.89 a day after it raised its outlook for second-quarter and full-year revenue. For details, see

Caterpillar shares also rose 0.9 percent to $96.63 after the heavy equipment maker reported results.

Larry McMillan, president of McMillan Analysis Corp said in a report the trend for the S&P is to the upside.

The fact that VIX is mostly going sideways is bullish; it would have to break out to the upside to create a bearish scenario, McMillan said.

The CBOE Volatility index <.VIX>, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, fell 2.8 percent to 16.17.

Thomson Reuters data showed 71 percent of the S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings so far have beaten estimates.

Weekly initial jobless claims surged to the highest level since late October while factory orders fell unexpectedly in December, the government said.

Trading volume was 7.6 billion shares on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, down from last year's estimated daily average of 8.47 billion shares.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,673 to 1,312. On the Nasdaq, advancers beat decliners by 1,348 to 1,284.

(Additional reporting by Doris Frankel; Editing by Kenneth Barry)