After an hour of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 15 points at 13,428. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained four to 1,437. And the Nasdaq composite index was up 13 to 3,107.
Energy stocks and banks gained the most in early trading. Consumer staples and utility stocks, which tend to do well when investors are fearful, were the only industry group in the S&P to fall.
The S&P has fallen five trading days in a row, its longest losing streak since July.
The market gains started earlier, in Asia, helped by expectations that the People's Bank of China will soon take more steps to ease a slowdown in the world's No. 2 economy.
Stocks rose 0.5 percent in Japan and 1.1 percent in Hong Kong.
In the United States, investors grappled Thursday with mixed economic data:
— The economy grew at an annual rate of 1.3 percent from April through June, the government said, slower than the previous estimate of 1.7 percent and not nearly fast enough to reduce unemployment.
— Demand for long-lasting manufactured goods plunged in August by the most since January 2009. That was mostly because of a huge drop in commercial aircraft orders, which are volatile. Orders that reflect business investment rose solidly.
— The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 26,000 last week to 359,000, the lowest figure in nine weeks. A figure consistently below 375,000 is generally enough to lower the unemployment rate.
— The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy previously occupied homes fell in August from a two-year high in July. The National Association of Realtors' sales index is still 10 percent higher than it was a year ago.
In Europe, stocks came back from one of their worst days in months. The benchmark stock index climbed 0.8 percent in France, 0.3 percent in Germany and Britain and 0.2 percent in Spain.
Borrowing costs for financially troubled Spain also edged down, a positive sign.
In the U.S., demand for government bonds fell, generally an indication that investors are more willing to embrace risk. The yield on the 10-year note, which moves opposite the price, rose 0.03 percentage point to 1.64 percent.
The price of crude oil rose $1.19 per barrel to $91.15 as concerns mounted about a potential military confrontation over Iran's nuclear program. Oil had dropped $9 a barrel in two weeks.
The dollar was flat against most major currencies.