Updated from 9:44 a.m. EST

Stocks on Wall Street were struggling for direction midmorning Thursday, as investors took in a host of economic data and earnings reports.

Lately, the major indices were sporting modest gains. The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

gained 13 points to 8837, and the

S&P 500

ticked up 3.6 points to 908. The

Nasdaq

ticked up 9.8 points to 1589.

Stocks ended Wednesday with losses as investor enthusiasm over the

Federal Reserve's

historic rate cut Tuesday got overshadowed by a larger-than-expected loss at

Morgan Stanley

(MS) - Get Report

.

Ahead of trading Thursday, the Labor Department reported that new applications for

jobless benefits

fell to a seasonally adjusted 554,000 from an upwardly revised figure of 575,000 the week before. The number came in slightly below economists' expectations of 558,000.

The Conference Board also released the Leading Indicators index, which comprises 10 variables, such as unemployment, inflation, consumer sentiment and new building permits. The index declined 0.4% after falling 0.8% a month prior. The Philadelphia Fed Index fell 32.9 vs. expectations for a decline of 40.5.

FedEx

(FDX) - Get Report

reported second-quarter earnings that beat estimates by a penny a share and unveiled a plan to save costs that calls for a cut in its senior executives' pay and a one-year freeze on 401(k) contributions.

Nike

(NKE) - Get Report

posted strong second-quarter results late Wednesday. The athletic apparel company reported net income of $391 million, or 80 cents a share, up 9%, from the $359.4 million, or 71 cents a share, it posted a year ago.

Analysts at Jeffries offered a bearish view for a number of chipmakers Thursday. The firm downgraded

Texas Instruments

(TXN) - Get Report

to underperform from hold and slashed its price target to $10 from $20; it also cut its rating for

National Semi

(NSM)

to underperform from hold and lowered its target to $5 from $20; it also lowered its rating for

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

to underperform from buy and scaled back its target to $11 from $26.

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

denied as untrue a report in

The Wall Street Journal

that said the company and

Chrysler

have reopened merger talks. GM, Chrysler and

Ford

(F) - Get Report

continue to await word on a federal bailout for the U.S. auto industry.

The Bush administration reportedly wants to forge the bailout for Detroit's Big Three automakers before Dec. 25. The White House said earlier that it might be willing to use money drawn from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and the Treasury also said it's prepared to pitch in after a federal rescue plan failed to pass the Senate last week.

Meanwhile, President-elect

Barack Obama

is working on a massive economic stimulus package that could total $850 billion over two years to promote jobs, provide middle-class tax relief and expand aid for the poor.

Moving to commodities, crude oil was falling $2.24 to $37.82 a barrel a day after oil-exporting cartel OPEC said it would cut production targets by another 2.2 million barrels effective in January. Gold was down $15.50 to $853 an ounce.

Longer-dated U.S. Treasury securities were rising in price. The 10-year was rising 21/32 to yield 2.1%, and the 30-year was rising 1 08/32, yielding 2.6%. The dollar was recently weaker against the euro, and stronger against the pound and yen.

Overseas, European exchanges such as the FTSE in London and the DAX in Frankfurt were mixed -- with the former down 0.7% and the latter up 0.5%, respectively. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei and Hong Kong's Hang Seng ended with gains.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. AP contributed to this report.