* 3M Co falls after earnings, outlook
* Initial jobless claims fall in latest week
* Indexes up: Dow 0.05 pct, S&P 0.28 pct, Nasdaq 0.57 pct
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, April 25 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged higher on Thursday, as investors digested a raft of earnings and a drop in initial jobless claims, though declines in Dow components ExxonMobil and 3M Co capped the advance.
United Parcel Service Inc (NYSE: UPS - news) , considered an economic bellwether, advanced 1.5 percent to $84.74 after the world's largest package-delivery company reported a quarterly profit above analysts' estimates.
Akamai Technologies Inc (NasdaqGS: AKAM - news) surged 18 percent to $42.59 as the best performer on the S&P 500 after the internet content delivery company posted first-quarter earnings above Wall Street estimates and forecast second-quarter results above analysts' expectations late on Wednesday.
"Investors coming into this earnings season were quite fearful, so even modestly positive news becomes great news and that is what we've experienced for the last several days," said Lawrence Creatura, portfolio manager at Federated Investors in Rochester, New York.
"It's probably a little early in the earnings season to talk about aggregate results but it's important to recognize that earnings are growing and so higher prices are deserved."
But declines in ExxonMobil and 3M Co briefly dragged the Dow into negative territory and curbed gains on the S&P 500.
ExxonMobil Corp dipped 1.4 percent to $88.15. The largest U.S. company by market capitalization said its quarterly profit edged up, helped by its chemicals business, but oil and gas production fell.
Fellow Dow component 3M Co lost 3.7 percent to $103.86 after the diversified U.S. manufacturer posted first-quarter earnings and revenue that missed Wall Street expectations and cut its 2013 profit forecast.
Economic data showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits in the latest week dropped 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 339,000 versus expectations for 351,000.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 8.02 points, or 0.05 percent, to 14,684.32. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index added 4.48 points, or 0.28 percent, to 1,583.27. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 18.60 points, or 0.57 percent, to 3,288.25.
Cliffs Natural Resources Inc (NYSE: CLF - news) jumped 14 percent to $20.78 after the iron ore and metallurgical coal miner posted earnings late on Wednesday that were much better than analysts had estimated.
Qualcomm Inc lost 5.4 percent to $62.43 after the mobile chipmaker forecast earnings below expectations late Wednesday.
Companies expected to post earnings after the close include Amazon.com Inc and Starbucks.
Verizon Communications Inc rose 2.1 percent to $52.87 after sources told Reuters it has hired advisers to prepare a possible $100 billion cash and stock bid to take full control of Verizon Wireless from joint venture partner, Vodafone Group Plc .
Earnings season has been largely positive, with 68.4 percent of S&P 500 companies that have reported results through Wednesday morning beating expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data through Tuesday morning. Since 1994, 63 percent have surpassed estimates on average, while the beat rate is 67 percent for the past four quarters.
Analysts see earnings growth of 3.1 percent this quarter, up from expectations of 1.5 percent at the start of the month.
Revenues, however, have been disappointing, with only 40.1 percent of 119 reported companies having topped expectations, well short of the 62 percent average since 2002 and the 52 percent beat rate for the past four quarters.