* Netflix tumbles after quarterly results
* UnitedHealth leads Dow, S&P higher
* Initial jobless claims fall to lowest in 14 years
* Indexes: Dow up 0.01 pct, S&P up 0.3 pct, Nasdaq off 0.3 pct (Updates to early afternoon, changes byline)
By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK, Oct 16 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged higher in afternoon trading Thursday, rebounding from earlier declines, as a flurry of economic reports eased fears about the potential impact of a weakening global economy on the United States.
If it closes higher, the Dow would break a five-day string of losses.
Data on Thursday painted a more optimistic picture of the U.S. economy, as initial jobless claims fell to their lowest level in 14 years, after a disappointing retail sales report in the prior session added to investor jitters.
Adding to the positive tone, St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard told Bloomberg Television the U.S. central bank may want to keep up its bond buying stimulus for now given a drop in inflation expectations.
The day's data "isn't continuing to be indicative of slowing in the U.S. - the good jobless claims number, industrial production - what a relief there," said Eric Wiegand, senior portfolio manager at the Private Client Reserve of U.S. Bank in New York.
Stocks have been under pressure recently on concerns about the impact on the United States of weakening global demand and the possible spread of Ebola. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq briefly fell into negative territory for the year during Wednesday's session.
UnitedHealth, up 5.2 percent at $86.40, was the biggest boost to the Dow and S&P 500, helping lift equities off their session lows. The largest U.S. managed care company's third-quarter earnings topped expectations.
Netflix shares plunged 20.5 percent to $356.33 as the biggest drag on both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 after it reported quarterly results and said it signed up fewer video-streaming subscribers than forecast for the quarter.
At 1:16 p.m., the Dow Jones industrial average rose 1.99 points, or 0.01 percent, to 16,143.73, the S&P 500 gained 5.69 points, or 0.31 percent, to 1,868.18 and the Nasdaq Composite added 12.98 points, or 0.31 percent, to 4,228.30.
The largest percentage gainer on the S&P 500 was Chesapeake Energy, which rose 16.6 percent, while the largest percentage decliner was Netflix.
The largest percentage gainer on the Nasdaq 100 was Wynn Resorts, which was rising 5.3 percent, while the largest percentage decliner was Netflix.
Advancing issues were outnumbering declining ones on the NYSE by 2,177 to 866, for a 2.51-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,869 issues were rising and 787 falling for a 2.37-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting no new 52-week highs and 16 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 15 new highs and 82 new lows (Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski)