Stocks traded slightly higher on Thursday, led by the technology sector after upbeat brokerage comments on Oracle Corp and ahead of an expected profit report from Intel Corp.

Shares of Oracle , the world's No. 2 business software maker, gained 2.5 percent to $25.37, leading gains in the Nasdaq <.IXIC>, after Morgan Stanley added the stock to its best ideas list and raised its price target.

Dow component Intel Corp , the world's largest chipmaker, is expected to report a quarterly profit after the closing bell. Its stock gained 1.6 percent to $21.29.

The gains in techs are an indication that investors see business spending, not consumer spending, fueling further growth to bring us out of (recession), said Burt White, managing director and chief investment officer at LPL Financial in Boston.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 30.23 points, or 0.28 percent, to 10,711.00. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> added 2.40 points, or 0.21 percent, to 1,148.08. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> rose 8.49 points, or 0.37 percent, to 2,316.39.

An unexpected drop in December retail sales and a rise in jobless claims last week cast fresh doubts on whether the U.S. economic recovery can ensure as government support fades.

The market was able to shrug off the data because as long as news is bad, government stimulus will keep coming, said Doug Roberts, chief investment strategist at in Shrewsbury, New Jersey.

The KBW bank index <.BKX> was up 1.4 percent, led mainly by regional and midsize banks. Dallas-based Comerica Inc jumped 3.7 percent to $34.39 after brokerage Raymond James upgraded its stock.

President Barack Obama proposed a fee to make big banks repay taxpayers for bailouts. Bank shares had fallen earlier in the week on speculation about the fee, but on Thursday the sector was higher.

Bank of America Corp gained 1.4 percent to $16.85.

Monsanto Co shares fell 2 percent to $82.26 after the Justice Department said it has opened an investigation into possible anti-competitive practices in the seed industry.

Monsanto was among the top percentage decliners on the S&P materials sector <.GSPM>, which fell 1.1 percent.

(Additional reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Kenneth Barry)