U.S. stocks advanced in early trade on Thursday, following better-than-expected initial jobless claims and housing starts data.

The S&P 500 Index advanced 2.18 points, or 0.18 percent, to trade at 1,237.46 at 9:55 a.m. EDT. The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 4.96 points, or 0.04 percent, to trade at 11,462.43. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 0.22 percent.

The Department of Labor reported that initial jobless claims declined by 3,000 to 420,000 for the week ended December 11 from the previous week's revised figure of 423,000, while economists expected 425,000. The 4-week moving average of initial claims declined 5,250 to 422,750 from the previous week's revised average of 428,000.

U.S. housing starts in November rose 3.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 555,000 from October’s revised estimate of Privately-owned housing starts, but the value is 5.8 percent below the November 2009 rate of 589,000.

New building permits, which give a sense of future home construction, declined 4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 530,000, from the revised October rate of 552,000. The value is 14.7 percent below the November 2009 estimate of 621,000.

On the corporate front, FedEx shares advanced 1.35 percent after the company raised its fiscal 2011 outlook as holiday volumes exceed expectations, but its second quarter earnings fell short of analysts' expectations.

General Mills Inc. declined 0.49 percent after the company said its second-quarter net income rose to $613.9 million or $0.92 per share, up from $565.5 million or $0.83 per share in the same period a year ago.

Oracle advanced 0.69 percent and Research In Motion advanced 0.22 percent ahead of their quarterly earnings after the market closes.

The euro advanced 0.21 percent to 1.3241 against the dollar and the yen gained 0.04 percent against the greenback.

Crude oil futures declined 0.23 percent to $88.42/barrel and gold futures declined 0.87 percent.

European stock markets are currently trading lower with FTSE100 down by 10.45 points, DAX30 down by 10.45 points and CAC 40 down by 11.38 points.