U.S. stocks finished little moved on Thursday, with smaller companies rebounding after dropping into corrective mode the prior day, as investors mulled an unexpected drop in weekly jobless claims ahead of the monthly payrolls report.
"The market is going to try to keep its head above water before unemployment numbers tomorrow," said Peter Cardillo, market economist at Rockwell Global Capital, of September jobs data slated for release Friday morning.
"Yesterday's decline did reach crucial technical levels; if we manage to bounce today, we could see the market stabilize as we await the earnings season, which kicks off next week," Cardillo said.
President Barack Obama spoke about the economy in a speech Thursday afternoon from suburban Chicago, saying the United States is making more progress than other countries.
Twitter climbed after JPMorgan Chase upgraded its shares. Tesla Motors rose after the maker of electric cars said it would come out with a new offering next week. DirecTV gained after inking a $12 deal to keep airing National Football League games on Sundays.
U.S. data had the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly dropping last week, falling by 8,000 to 287,000. The report comes a day before the September jobs report.
Less positive was a 10.1 percent drop in factory orders in August, with the number worse than the estimated 8.7 percent decline.
Stocks had fallen sharply during Thursday's session after the European Central Bank held interest rates unchanged, and ECB President Mario Draghi saying the central bank would purchase assets for two years or more to lift inflation and increase economic growth.
Draghi "was quite pessimistic," said Rockwell's Cardillo.
And, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde said the IMF would cut its forecast for potential growth, with only a modest pickup expected in 2015.