Key Points:

NEW YORK - US blue-chip stocks edged higher today as optimism about strong corporate profits from companies, including Boeing and Exxon Mobil, was tempered by data showing unexpected weakness in US manufacturing.

Boeing Co., the aircraft manufacturer and No. 2 US defence contractor, led the Dow higher for the second day in a row. Analysts at Banc of America Securities and Citigroup increased their price targets on the stock a day after the company reported stronger-than-expected earnings.

Exxon Mobil Corp. shares added almost 1 per cent and ranked among the biggest gainers in both the blue-chip Dow average and the S&P 500 after the oil company reported the highest full-year profit in US corporate history.

Shortly after the opening bell, though, a report showed US manufacturing unexpectedly contracted in January to its slowest pace since April 2003. New orders, inventories and production fell, according to a survey published by the Institute for Supply Management.

"Today, the most important data point out there (for stocks) is going to be on the earnings," said Owen Fitzpatrick, head of the US Equity Group at Deutsche Bank Private Wealth Management in New York.

"There's definitely some pockets of weakness out there -- housing, auto -- but there's also some pretty strong areas like aerospace that are helping the market along."

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 10.17 points, or 0.08 per cent, at 12,631.86. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 3.25 points, or 0.23 per cent, at 1,441.49. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down just 0.77 of a point, or 0.03 per cent, at 2,463.16.

Shares of Boeing rose 1.7 per cent to US$91.08 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Exxon Mobil's stock was up 0.8 per cent at US$74.72 on the NYSE after the world's largest publicly traded oil company reported record earnings for 2006.

On Nasdaq, shares of Gilead Sciences Inc. jumped nearly 11 per cent to US$71.28 after hitting a lifetime record high of US$71.84. Gilead ranked second among the stocks contributing the most to the S&P 500's gain.

Gilead, whose products include HIV drugs, reported earnings on Wednesday that beat Wall Street's expectations. On Thursday, the company also projected sharply higher 2007 sales and analysts raised their price targets on the stock.

Dell Inc. rose 1.7 per cent to US$24.64, a day after the computer maker announced a management reshuffle, replacing its chief executive with founder and Chairman Michael Dell.

In contrast, shares of Comcast Corp., the leading US cable operator, dropped 3.7 per cent to US$42.70 on Nasdaq as the company's higher-than-expected spending plans for 2007 raised concerns on Wall Street. Comcast was the heaviest weight on the Nasdaq 100.

Shares of Web search leader Google Inc. dropped 1.7 per cent to $493.02, which also weighed heavily on the Nasdaq.

Google reported a 67 per cent jump in gross revenue, which beat a Wall Street consensus for growth of 64 per cent, but analysts said the results still failed to live up to some investors' expectations.

- REUTERS