* HP jumps after raising 2013 outlook
* Encouraging economic data help stocks retreat from lows
* Investors fret about timing of Fed stimulus pullback
* Dow up 0.1 pct; S&P 500 off 0.2 pct; Nasdaq off 0.1 pct
By Angela Moon
NEW YORK, May 23 U.S. stocks mostly edged lower on Thursday but were sharply off their session lows as a rally in Hewlett-Packard's shares offset worries about weak Chinese manufacturing data and the prospects of the Federal Reserve reducing its monetary stimulus.
Hewlett-Packard jumped nearly 15 percent and helped the Dow stay in positive territory, a day after the world's largest PC maker raised its outlook.
For most of the morning, the market had been pulled lower by worries that the Fed's stimulus may be scaled back sooner than hoped and after weak factory data in China.
"The weak data from China, along with concerns about the Fed, were enough for investors to sell. It's a bit of a natural move. especially in this rally," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade in Chicago.
"Also, we are heading into the long weekend, so all these small factors are coming together for a decline."
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 13.36 points, or 0.09 percent, at 15,320.53. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 3.05 points, or 0.18 percent, at 1,652.30. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 2.50 points, or 0.07 percent, at 3,460.80.
Hewlett-Packard Co shares shot up 14.7 percent to $24.34 a day after the computer maker raised its 2013 earnings outlook following quarterly results that beat low expectations.
Signs of improvement in the housing and labor markets also helped indexes come off their lows by midday.
Earlier, the S&P 500 traded below its 14-day moving average before bouncing back above it. Holding above that level would be positive sign to investors as it would suggest the uptrend is still intact.
Ralph Lauren Corp shares lost 2.5 percent to $183.44 after the fashion company reported sales below its own projections.
On Wednesday, the S&P 500 posted its biggest decline in three weeks after minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve's latest meeting showed some officials were open to tapering large-scale asset purchases as early as at the June meeting.
The minutes came in the wake of comments from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who said the Fed could scale back the pace of its bond purchases at one of the "next few meetings" if the economic recovery looked set to maintain forward momentum.
When the Fed may decide to slow or halt its program of buying $85 billion of bonds a month has become one of the biggest questions on investors' minds. The central bank's stimulus efforts have helped propel markets to all-time highs this year and investors are trying to gauge whether a change in the program could spell the end of the rally.
"It isn't their absolute level of involvement in buying bonds that's going to determine the stock market. It's going to be the perception of whether they're there or not," said Uri Landesman, president of Platinum Partners in New York.
"Once they really meaningfully step away, investors are going to realize they're just not going to be there and that the market's going to have to stand on its own feet."
On the economic front, the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, suggesting strength in the labor market. New home sales rose in a sign that the sector's rebound is still intact. But separate data showed manufacturing slowed for a second straight month in May.