Stocks rose on Thursday after a labor market report indicated the economy was slowly recovering, but the data was not enough to push the S&P convincingly above a 10-month high.
Equities have rallied more than 8 percent so far this year, and more than 20 percent from lows reached in October, leading many to believe further upside is limited as the S&P flirted with the 1,360 level, a high hit last May.
The index has been unable to break convincingly above the point over the last several sessions. While a convincing break above 1,360 could trigger more gains, the likelihood of a pullback increases with each failed attempt.
"Right now there's a question of what other bazookas the bulls have to keep driving gains, and there doesn't seem to be many," said Roger Volz, director of cash equities at BGC Financial in New York.
"In addition, there are big concerns about what impact rising crude prices could have on the consumer, as well as recession fears in Europe. That could take us lower."
U.S. crude futures were little changed after hitting a 9-month high Wednesday and rising 7.9 percent this month. Oil service shares were modestly higher after gaining 1.7 percent Wednesday.
With a Greek debt deal reached this week, investors switched their attention back to U.S. economic data and corporate results for market direction.
New U.S. claims for unemployment insurance held at the lowest level since the early days of the 2007-2009 recession, a fresh sign the battered labor market was slowly healing.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 50.33 points, or 0.39 percent, at 12,989.00. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was up 3.62 points, or 0.27 percent, at 1,361.28. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> gained 20.50 points, or 0.70 percent, at 2,953.67.
Hewlett-Packard Co shed 4.6 percent to $27.61 and was the biggest drag on the Dow and S&P. Late Wednesday, the world's No. 1 computer maker posted a sharp decline in earnings and warned it would take several years to turn around its sprawling businesses.
Kohl's Corp slid 5 percent to $49.61 after the department store chain issued a 2012 profit that missed estimates.
Fellow retailer Target Corp gained 1.7 percent to $53.86 after reporting a higher-than-expected profit.
Sears Holdings Corp jumped 19.8 percent to $62.40 on its plan to separate its Sears Hometown and Outlet Businesses and certain hardware stores.
The S&P retail index <.RLX> rose 0.6 percent.
According to Thomson Reuters data through Thursday morning, of the 446 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 63 percent topped analysts' expectations.
Other companies expected to post earnings later Thursday include Salesforce.com Inc and Gap Inc .
Vivus Inc surged 86 percent to $19.60 after the drugmaker's weight loss pill got a favorable review from a regulatory advisory panel.
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