Stocks rose modestly in a choppy session on Thursday on a late flurry of buying as investors built on momentum gained after the S&P 500 broke through its 200-day moving average earlier this week.

Stocks were lower for most of the day as weak reports on regional manufacturing and jobless claims underscored worries about the pace of the economic recovery.

I don't think that the buyers are willing to give up on the market just yet, we still have quite a bit of momentum, said Peter Kenny, managing director at Knight Equity Markets in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Underscoring a cautious market, defensive sectors such as consumer staples and utilities gained late in the session. Procter & Gamble rose 0.9 percent to $61.76, while the S&P consumer staples index <.GSPS> rose 0.7 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 24.71 points, or 0.24 percent, to 10,434.17. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> gained 1.43 points, or 0.13 percent, to 1,116.04. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> gained 1.23 points, or 0.05 percent, to 2,307.16.

Apple Inc touched a lifetime high at $272.90 a day after the company said it sold more than 600,000 units of its new iPhone. Its shares ended up 1.7 percent at $271.87.

(Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by Kenneth Barry)