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Stocks end modestly higher; Microsoft gains

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Tiffany, meanwhile, soared to the top of the S&P 500 after the luxury retailer reported higher profits in every region and raised its forecast for the full year. Global sales rose 20 from the first quarter, better than the firm's initial forecast.

NetApp also led the index after the computer data storage firm reported an 11 percent earnings gain and a robust outlook for the current quarter. Also, BMO raised its price target on the computer storage firm to "outperform" from "market perform," and S&P Equity raised its price target to $68 a share from $64.

However, Computer Sciences plunged more than 10 percent after the tech firm posted weaker than expected earnings and handed in an outlook that disappointed. In addition, at least three brokerages cut their price targets on the firm.

Google fell slightly after introducing "Google Wallet," a technology that would allow people to pay for items via an app on their mobile Android phones. The app uses MasterCard's "PayPass" technology.

Meanwhile Heinz rose slightly after the ketchup maker reported higher than expected sales, although earnings missed by a penny.

On the initial public offering front, shares of FreeScale Semiconductor jumped after the semiconductor company began trading Thursday morning. The offering was priced Wednesday at $18 a share, below the initial price talk of $22 to $24 a share.

But Spirit Airlines, fell after shares of the ultra low-priced airlines began trading. The $15.6 million IPO was priced at $12 a share on Wednesday.

The weak economic news led to a mixed picture for oil prices. U.S. light, sweet crude fell $1.08 percent to $100.23 a barrel, while in London, Brent crude rose 0.10 percent to $115.05.

Precious metals also were weaker on Thursday. Gold fell 0.25 percent to settle at $1,522.80, while silver fell 0.83 percent to settle at $37.33.

The bond market added to gains after a successful U.S. Treasury auction of $29 billion in 7-year notes. The securities fetched a high yield of 2.43 percent, and a bid-to-cover ratio of 3.24. Yields on the 10-year note, meanwhile, traded below the 200-day moving average of 3.08 percent.

On the economic front, jobless claims rose 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 424,000 form an upwardly revised 414,000, the Labor Department reported. The four week average of claims, however, fell to 438,500. Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected claims last week would fall to 400,000.

Also, the second reading on first quarter gross domestic product was reported unchanged at 1.8 percent. Economists had expected the second reading would show slightly stronger growth.

And sales of homes owned by banks or in some stage of foreclosure fell in the first quarter as demand remained weak, but distressed homes still made up about 28 percent of sales, RealtyTrac reported on Thursday.

In other economic news, Goldman Sachs reduced its earnings forecast for the S&P 500 to $104 a share from $106, bringing its forecast for the index to 1,450 from 1,500.

European stocks rose as mining stocks lifted the benchmark index in the London market.

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