* Jobless claims rose unexpectedly last week
* S&P 500 up 1 pct for year
* Indexes up: Dow 0.12 pct, S&P 0.10 pct, Nasdaq 0.40 pct (Updates to early afternoon)
By Abhiram Nandakumar
March 31 (Reuters) - Wall Street was set to end a tumultuous first quarter on a quiet note with the three major indexes eking out small gains on Thursday, led by healthcare stocks.
Worries about the global economy caused a steep selloff in stocks at the start of the year, before a rebound in oil prices sparked a recovery.
Investors held off on making big bets on Thursday ahead of the critical U.S. non-farm payrolls report due on Friday. Crude oil rose slightly, hovering near $40 a barrel.
Data on Thursday showed U.S. jobless claims rose unexpectedly last week but remained well below the 300,000 mark, denoting a healthy labor market.
Friday’s report will give investors a clearer reading on the state of the economy.
“Everyone continues to search for information about where the economy is and if it is really firming up like we think and hope it is,” said Dan Farley, regional investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis.
“The market is just waiting for some of these big data points to come out tomorrow and in a sense is taking a breather today,” Farley said, adding that investors were also concerned about corporate earnings growth.
At 12:37 p.m. ET (1637 GMT), the Dow Jones industrial average was up 20.72 points, or 0.12 percent, at 17,737.38, the S&P 500 was up 2.13 points, or 0.1 percent, at 2,066.08 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 19.42 points, or 0.4 percent, at 4,888.72.
Seven of the 10 major S&P sectors posted meager gains, with a 0.4 percent rise in the healthcare sector leading the way.
Investors’ nerves were soothed this week by U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s comments that the central bank should be cautious with raising interest rates.
Yellen’s remarks quelled speculation that the Fed could be aggressive with its plan to raise rates, and pushed stocks to their highest this year. The S&P is now up 1 percent for the year after having fallen nearly 11 percent in February.
Investors are also concerned about tepid corporate earnings growth and will keep a close eye on the quarterly reports that start rolling in next month.
Shares of Best Buy were up 3.5 percent at $32.68 after Barclays initiated coverage of the stock with an “overweight” rating.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,761 to 1,138. On the Nasdaq, 1,668 issues rose and 1,023 fell.
The S&P 500 index showed 31 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 40 new highs and 16 new lows. (Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)