* Ford rallies after results; AT&T, Dow Chemical lower
* Fewer companies than usual beat revenue expectations
* Federal Reserve seen keeping stimulus for several months
* Indexes up: Dow 0.5 pct, S&P 0.2 pct, Nasdaq 0.5 pct
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, Oct 24 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged higher on Thursday, continuing the market's recent upward trend as expectations for steady accommodative monetary policy for the foreseeable future offset a mixed batch of earnings and economic data.
The S&P 500 is on track for its tenth gain in the past 12 sessions, a rally largely driven by expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve will continue its stimulus, which has propped up the equity market and economy for much of the year. The S&P closed at a record on Tuesday.
The prospect of continuing easy money was enough to offset an earnings season marked by some weak outlooks and tepid revenue growth. Dow Chemical Co, Xerox Corp and AT&T Inc all fell following results on Wednesday, though Ford Motor Co was a bright spot.
"Earnings haven't been a best-case or worst-case scenario, but it doesn't look like the economy is firing on all cylinders," said John Norris, managing director of wealth management with Oakworth Capital Bank in Birmingham, Alabama.
"Still, while the gains we've seen might be illusory, given the Fed, there's no reason to think we're on the cusp of a pullback so long as the Fed stays put."
In another sign the economy wasn't "firing on all cylinders," initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell less than expected in the latest week. The preliminary read of Markit's Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index grew at its slowest pace in a year this month and factory output contracted for the first time since late 2009.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 81.36 points, or 0.53 percent, at 15,494.69. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 4.06 points, or 0.23 percent, at 1,750.44. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 18.80 points, or 0.48 percent, at 3,925.88.
The S&P has risen about 1.5 percent since Washington politicians ended a stalemate to avoid a debt default and end a partial government shutdown, culminating in a record high on Tuesday, but the damage to the economy has led investors to expect the Fed to delay scaling back its stimulus for several months.
Ford rose 1.9 percent to $17.86 after the automaker boosted its full-year global earnings and margin outlook, helped by an improved forecast in Europe and better-than-expected results in the third quarter. Dow component 3M Co rose 0.5 percent to $123.85 after posting a 5.6 percent rise in revenue.
PulteGroup Inc was the S&P's biggest gainer, jumping 7.1 percent to $17.86 after the homebuilder reported results and said a slowdown in new home orders would be "short-lived." It lifted other names in the sector, with D.R. Horton Inc up 3.4 percent to $20.13 and Beazer Homes Inc up 2.2 percent to $19.56.
On the downside, both AT&T and Dow Chemical fell after results missed expectations. AT&T, a Dow component, fell 1.4 percent to $34.80 while Dow Chemical lost 2.3 percent to $40.08 after. Xerox slumped 8.3 percent to $9.84 after giving a weak outlook.
Cameron International Corp was the S&P's biggest percentage decliner, slumping 13 percent to $54.92. Its adjusted earnings came in sharply below expectations.
With 41 percent of S&P 500 companies having reported, 67.6 percent have topped analyst expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data, a rate that is above the historical average of 63 percent. However, only 52.7 percent have topped revenue expectations, below the long-term average of 61 percent.
Visa Inc rose 1.6 percent to $202.03 as the top boost to the Dow after the credit card payment processor boosted its annual dividend.