Stocks stay in tight range on mixed data

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Thursday as mixed economic data and a cautious forecast from economic bellwether FedEx kept the market locked in its recent tight trading range.

Shares in FedEx Corp FDX.N fell 3.7 percent to $82.72 after the company, seen as a proxy for economic demand because of the wide swath of industries it serves, forecast quarterly profit below Wall Street's expectations and warned the recovery may slow.

A drop in initial jobless benefit claims to a two-month low in the most recent week was not enough to lift stocks, while a gauge of business activity in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region showed a contraction for a second straight month in September.

The S&P 500 has settled into a range between support at its 200-day moving average around 1,115 and resistance around 1,130. Attempts to pierce 1,130 have been thwarted several times since June, including this week.

“We are just in the same growth path we were before the double-dip fears -- that is why the market is just kind of stuck, volumes are kind of low, and there is no conviction one way or the other,” said John Canally, investment strategist and economist for LPL Financial in Boston.

“Today, jobless claims were good, corporate earnings data not so good, and that’s the tug of war you are in today.”

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI gained 22.10 points, or 0.21 percent, to 10,594.83. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX dropped 0.40 points, or 0.04 percent, to 1,124.67. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC gained 1.93 points, or 0.08 percent, to 2,303.25.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, September 7, 2010. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Oracle Corp ORCL.O, the No. 3 software maker, and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd RIM.TORIMM.O rose in extended trade after posting quarterly results that topped Wall Street's expectations.

Oracle shares gained 4.1 percent to $26.41 and Research in Motion jumped 8.4 percent to $50.40 in extended trade.

Texas Instruments Inc TXN.N shares rose 3.5 percent to $25.85 after the bell as the chip maker increased the amount of stock it would repurchase and boosted its quarterly dividend by 8 percent.

On Thursday, The Labor Department said the seasonally adjusted index for prices paid at the farm and factory gate increased 0.4 percent, the largest increase in five months, after gaining 0.2 percent in July.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected producer prices to rise 0.3 percent last month. In the 12 months to August, producer prices increased 3.1 percent, slowing from the prior month’s 4.2 percent increase.

The Philadelphia Fed’s survey, expected by a Reuters poll to show growth in manufacturing, showed falling activity for the second consecutive month and was a reminder of the pressure still on the recovery.

Weakness in FedEx spilled over to the rest of the sector. Rival United Parcel Service Inc UPS.N shed 1.4 percent to $66.72, and the Dow Jones Transportation average .DJT lost 1 percent.

Ford Motor Co F.N rose 4.8 percent to $12.44 after Barclays upgraded the stock to "overweight" from "equal weight," saying the U.S. automaker's earnings power has risen, driven by its vehicles and U.S. pricing.

A Reuters poll of institutional investors and strategists found U.S. stocks are expected to make strong gains before year-end as worries about a second recession subside.

Volume was light with about 6.5 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, well below last year’s estimated daily average of 9.65 billion.

Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by four to three, while on the Nasdaq, decliners beat advancers by about five to three.

Editing by Padraic Cassidy