US STOCKS-S&P steady after data; Exxon, Aetna drop
* Exxon and Aetna both fall after earnings
* Jobless claims fall less than expected
* Citrix rallies on earnings, analyst comments
* Indexes up: Dow 0.5 pct, S&P and Nasdaq both 0.2 pct
NEW YORK, April 26 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged higher in choppy trade on Thursday as another batch of positive earnings and a strong housing report put equities on track for a third straight day of gains.
While most corporate results topped expectations, some high-profile misses, including from Exxon and Aetna, kept a lid on gains.
Pending home sales rose to a near two-year high in March, but investors also had to contend with data showing a stumbling labor recovery as weekly initial jobless claims fell slightly but missed forecasts.
With 254 companies S&P 500 companies reporting, more than 72 percent have topped estimates, according to Thomson Reuters data. A big beat from Apple Inc drove Wednesday's rally, which gave the Nasdaq its best day of the year.
Weapons maker Lockheed Martin Corp and online jobs recruiter Monster Worldwide Inc both had higher-than expected net. Monster jumped 15.6 percent to $9.43, while Lockheed added 1.1 percent to $91.99.
But Exxon Mobil Corp and Aetna Inc posted lower earnings, a nd United Parcel Service Inc's revenues missed expectations.
Exxon fell 1.8 percent to $85.33, Aetna slid 10.4 percent to $44.20 and UPS lost 3.2 percent to $77.07.
"These are among the first blue chips to really miss this season, and that's putting some pressure on us," said Timothy Hoyle, director of research at Haverford Investments in Radnor, Pennsylvania.
"I think earnings are enough to support a higher market, perhaps up to 1,450 (for the S&P), but the focus today is on who is and isn't delivering, compared to expectations."
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 61.11 points, or 0.47 percent, at 13,151.83. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index put on 2.57 points, or 0.18 percent, at 1,393.26. The Nasdaq Composite Index added 6.44 points, or 0.21 percent, at 3,036.07.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc, grappling with a bribery probe at its Mexican operation, was one of the top gainers on the Dow, climbing 2.6 percent to $58.86. The retailer remains down 5.5 percent for the week.
Wednesday's rally helped to purge much of April's losses brought on by investors' worries over prospects of a seasonally weak market in May as well as signs Europe's debt crisis was getting worse.
The S&P 500 was back above its 50-day moving average after the level was fiercely contested. Stocks pulled back as much as 4.2 percent from yearly highs in early April.
Colgate-Palmolive Co slipped 0.9 percent to $98.71, even as sales topped expectations, while PepsiCo Inc took off 0.3 percent at $66.48 after earnings fell slightly but still topped estimates.
Shares of Whirlpool Corp, the world's largest appliance maker, dropped 4.6 percent to $65.75 after sales declined and it missed estimates.
On the upside, Citrix Systems Inc surged 10.5 percent to $85.81 a day after reporting strong net income, prompting analysts to raise estimates for the business software company.
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