Wall Street was mixed as investors weighed economic data providing an equally mixed picture on the outlook as weekly jobless claims disappointed, while an index of leading indicators bettered expectations and manufacturing in the Philadelphia region improved for the first time in six months.

In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.20 per cent and the Standard & Poor's 500 Index eked out a 0.03 per cent increase. The Nasdaq Composite Index edged 0.09 per cent lower.

"The market is digesting some strong gains earlier in the week and the disappointing jobless claims number," Jim Russell, the chief equity strategist at US Bank Wealth Management, told Bloomberg News. "The data cadence is two steps forward, one step back right now with a positive bias. It does appear as if things are firming up at the margin for the US economy and the Philly Fed report confirms that."

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits climbed 46,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 388,000, according to the Labor Department. Even so, a four-week moving average was down from a month earlier, providing a sign of cautious recovery.


"Improvement in the labour market will continue to be fitful and slow," Joseph Trevisani, a market strategist at Worldwide Markets in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, told Reuters.

Separately, the Conference Board's gauge of the outlook for the next three to six months increased 0.6 per cent in September after a revised 0.4 per cent drop in August that was bigger than initially reported. That was the biggest improvement in seven months and better than anticipated.

The recovery in the housing market also is helping.

"The residential housing market is in the very early stages of a durable recovery," Joe Lavorgna, chief US economist at Deutsche Bank Securities in New York, said in a research note before today's report, according to Bloomberg. "Housing is a leading indicator of underlying domestic demand; thus, continued improvement in the former bodes well for some acceleration over time in the latter."

Improvement was also showing in the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank's business activity index, which climbed to 5.7 this month from minus 1.9 in September, surpassing expectations.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index ended the day with a 0.2 per cent increase from the previous close as European Union leaders gathered in Brussels for a two-day summit. Benchmark stock indexes also gained in Germany, France and the UK.

Meanwhile, Spain drew strong demand for its debt auction after Moody's this week affirmed the nation's investment grade credit rating. The yield on Spain's benchmark 10-year bonds fell to a six-month low after the country sold 4.61 billion euros of securities due in 2015, 2016 and 2022, according to Bloomberg. The government had planned to auction 4.5 billion euros of debt.