Investors also continued to mull former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's warning on Chinese stocks that caused the market to lose its gains Wednesday.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 4 points at 13,530.
Among blue chips, Boeing Co. gained 2.2%, bouncing back from the previous session when it affirmed its earnings outlook for 2007 and 2008.
But General Motors fell 1%. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, GM said it sees a $7 billion exposure from helping Delphi get out of bankruptcy. GM previously said it would cost between $6 billion and $7.5 billion.
The S&P 500 fell 1.2 points to 1,521, while the Nasdaq Composite [s: comp] eased 8 points to 2,569.
Economy back in play
Stock futures reversed early weakness after the government said that new orders for U.S.-made durable goods increased 0.6% in April, boosted by strong demand for metals.
Orders in March rose a revised 5%, a six-month high, compared with a 4.3% estimate previously. Orders for core capital equipment goods - the best monthly gauge of business investment - rose 1.2% after a 4.4% gain in March.
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch were looking for no change in durable goods orders in April.
The data seems to confirm other data showing improvement in the manufacturing sector.
But one market that is still struggling is the housing market.
Homebuilder Toll Brothers fell 0.4%. The company said that its second-quarter net income dropped to $36.7 million, or 22 cents a share, from $174.9 million, or $1.06 a share, a year ago.
Toll Brothers also said that it's not comfortable giving full earnings guidance.
At 10 a.m., the market will review new home sales for April. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expect new-home sales to be about flat, though sales compared to July 2005 are down 37%.
On Wednesday, the market reversed previous gains to close lower, after Greenspan said he feared the Chinese stock market was headed for a "dramatic correction."
Overnight, the Shanghai Composite fell 0.5%.
U.S. stocks, which have rallied almost without interruption since mid-March, fell back as trading volumes were light in the run up to the three-day Memorial Day weekend, traders said.
"While this did not derail the rally, the major indices did close in the red after they all had made new intra-day highs," said Marc Pado, market strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald. "That makes it a minor reversal day to the downside for the broad range of indices. "
"It would require a follow-through day to the downside" to confirm a real trend reversal, Pado said.
Crude-oil futures held below $66 a barrel. Futures were down 6 cents at $65.71 a barrel in recent action.
Gold futures slipped $2.0 to $660.60 an ounce.
The dollar was up slightly against the euro but down against the yen.
Bonds were down slightly after the durable goods data.
Network Appliance stumbled 12% after the storage-technology company said a brief slowdown in March will cause it to deliver weaker-than-forecast results for its current quarter. "We hit an airpocket and we never made up the difference," according to CFO Steve Gomo.
Software companies CA and Synopsys also issued earnings outlooks below market expectations.
Limited Brands fell 1% after reporting a 47% profit fall and saying sales at Victoria's Secret continue to be weak.
But apparel retailers Gymboree and Abercrombie & Fitch all rose after their quarterly results.
By Nick Godt