Stocks edged below session highs on Thursday after a monthly measure of regional factory activity showed a sharp contraction, pointing to a deepening recession.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank reported its business activity index in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region at minus 41.3 in February, while economists had expected a reading of negative 25.0, according a Reuters poll.

U.S. workers continuing to claim jobless benefits jumped to a record in the first week of February.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 41.82 points, or 0.55 percent, to 7,597.45. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> added 7.76 points, or 0.98 percent, to 796.18. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> gained 10.67 points, or 0.73 percent, to 1,478.64.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by James Dalgleish)