U.S. stocks rose slightly in volatile trade on Thursday as positive economic data outweighed a report from FedEx Corp that the global downturn continued to hurt its shipping business.

The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits fell unexpectedly last week, and new U.S. housing starts and permits increased to their highest level since November.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank said business activity in the Mid-Atlantic region jumped in September to its highest level since June 2007. For details, see

Basically it continues the process of better economic numbers, said David Katz, chief investment officer at Matrix Asset Advisors in New York.

The economy is clearly on the mend, but it's not a straight line.

FedEx shares slipped 1.6 percent to $76.93 after it reported a sharp drop in quarterly profit that was in line with estimates, but revenues missed expectations. It said the downturn was weighing on shipping volumes.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 28.34 points, or 0.29 percent, to 9,820.05. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> added 2.64 points, or 0.25 percent, to 1,071.40. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> rose 3.44 points, or 0.16 percent, to 2,136.59.

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.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)