NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) -- Stocks finished modestly higher after pushing past key levels on Thursday, though mixed economic reports and lower-than-expected sales from Dow components

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

and

Procter & Gamble

(PG) - Get Report

kept the advance in check.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

crossed the 12,000 mark for a second consecutive session but again pulled back to close up just 4.4 points, or 0.04%, at 11,990. The blue-chip index has risen in four of the past five sessions, is on pace for a ninth straight positive week, and is up 3.56% in January.

The

S&P 500

, meanwhile, was able to surmount its own psychologically significant marker of 1,300 in intra-day action but it followed the same pattern, settling up 3 points, or 0.2%, to finish just shy at 1299. The

Nasdaq Composite

gained 16 points, or 0.6%, to close at 2755.

Home Depot

(HD) - Get Report

,

United Technologies

,

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

and

Boeing

(BA) - Get Report

were the prominent gainers within the Dow.

AT&T, Procter & Gamble,

Kraft Foods

(KFT)

and

Alcoa

(AA) - Get Report

were the Dow's biggest laggards. Breadth within the Dow was positive with 17 stocks rising while 12 declined.

Shortly before the closing bell,

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

surprised markets with the early announcement of its fourth-quarter results. The software giant

beat estimates on both the top and bottom lines with EPS of 77 cents on a revenue of $19.5 billion. Shares were off by 0.4% to $28.87.

Shares of

Amazon

(AMZN) - Get Report

, however, were down 9% to $167.67 in extended trading

after the online retailer missed revenue estimates.

Trading on the big board was lighter than usual as another

snowstorm blanketed much of the U.S.'s East Coast. About 986 million shares changed hands on the NYSE, while volumes on the Nasdaq totaled more than 2 billion. Market breadth leaned to the positive with 55% of stocks on the

New York Stock Exchange

advancing and 42% losing ground.

Initial weekly jobless claims jumped by 51,000 to their highest level since October at 454,000, according to the Labor Department's report for the week ended Jan. 22. Economists had been expecting a slight increase to 410,000, according to

Briefing.com

.

The Department of Commerce said

durable goods orders unexpectedly dropped 2.5% in December, after slipping 0.3% in November. According to

Briefing.com

, economists had forecast an increase of 1.5%. Excluding transportation, orders grew by 0.5%, which was largely in line with the 0.6% uptick that the market anticipated. In November, orders, excluding transportation, rose by 2.4% in the prior month.

Michael Yoshikami, president and chief investment strategist at YCMNET Advisors, said both durable goods orders and jobless claims data were skewed by seasonal factors and shouldn't be cause for too much concern.

"Durable goods orders dropped off after a surge in aircraft deliveries and jobless claims were affected by the snowstorm so I'm not too concerned by these numbers and I think the market is showing that it's not too concerned, either," he said.

The

National Association of Realtors said pending-home sales rose 2% in December, exceeding economists' expectations for a dip of 0.5%.

Also denting sentiment was news that Standard & Poor's cut Japan's credit rating to "AA-" from "AA," citing concerns about the country's ability to pay its growing debt.

In other global news,

anti-government protests continued for a third day in Cairo, sending Egypt's benchmark index, the EGX30, down more than 10% -- it's biggest decline in more than two years, according to a report from the

Associated Press

.

Shares of

Caterpillar

(CAT) - Get Report

gained 0.9% to $96.63 after the Peoria, Ill.-based machinery giant handily beat Wall Street's profit view with its fourth-quarter

earnings of $1.47 a share. The company said sales jumped 62% to $12.81 billion, far exceeding Wall Street's estimate for sales of $11.63 billion.

Eli Lilly

(LLY) - Get Report

saw its stock gain 1.5% at $35.47 after the

pharmaceutical company reported a 28% jump in net income as higher volumes led to a sales boost of 4%.

Shares of

Netflix

(NFLX) - Get Report

jumped 15.2% to $210.87 after the company

reported better-than-expected earnings late Wednesday and said subscribers soared past the 20-million mark for the first time.

Teradyne

(TER) - Get Report

saw its shares soar 11.8% to $16.35 after it said fourth quarter sales doubled and gave a rosy outlook for the current quarter.

The stock of

Helmerich & Payne

(HP) - Get Report

shot up 9.5% to $56.74 after it posted better-than-expected results on higher rig utilization.

Murphy Oil

(MUR) - Get Report

was among the biggest losers on the S&P 500 after it missed analyst estimates for the fourth quarter. Deutsche Bank downgraded the stock to a hold and reduced the price target to $80. Shares plunged 10.2% to $65.74.

In commodity markets, the March crude oil contract shed $1.69 to settle at $85.64 a barrel. The February gold contract shed $14.60 to settle at $1,318.40 an ounce.

The dollar weakened against a basket of currencies with the dollar index down by 0.1%. The benchmark 10-year Treasury rose 8/32, diluting the yield to 3.389%.

.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.3% while Japan's Nikkei gained 0.7%. London's FTSE dipped 0.07% while the DAX in Frankfurt added 0.4%.

--Written by Melinda Peer and Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York

.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.