US STOCKS-Wall Street little changed in choppy session

Chuck Mikolajczak
Thursday, 9 Jan 2014 | 1:44 PM ET

* Bed, Bath & Beyond, Family Dollar drag retailers

* Jobless claims fall more than expected in latest week

* Intercept Pharma drug meets goal in trial, shares triple

* Indexes off: Dow 0.10 pct, S&P 0.05 pct, Nasdaq 0.19 pct

NEW YORK, Jan 9 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed in choppy trade on Thursday, as a soft performance by retailers offset earlier enthusiasm about an upbeat report on the labor market.

The S&P retail index declined 0.3 percent, pulled lower by a 12.8 percent tumble in Bed, Bath and Beyond Inc to $69.52 and a 4.6 percent drop in Family Dollar Stores Inc to $63.28.

Bed Bath & Beyond lowered its fourth quarter and full-year earnings estimates after the close on Wednesday. Family Dollar reported a weaker quarterly profit on Thursday as it discounted to win holiday shoppers.

Investors were also hesitant to make big best ahead of Friday's payrolls report, which could provide more insight on the health of the labor market.

Indexes had opened in positive territory, aided by initial jobless claims data. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits last week fell more than expected to a seasonally adjusted 330,000, pointing to an economy that continues to gain steam.

"We are in sort of a see-saw mode, the wait and see attitude of investors as they would like to know what happens - is job growth still continuing strong and also what we are seeing for fourth quarter earnings," said Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones in St. Louis.

The U.S. central bank said last month it would begin trimming its stimulative monthly bond purchases. Minutes from the Fed's most recent meeting showed its top officials were keen to steer a delicate path and many of them stressed that future decisions were not set in stone.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 16.03 points or 0.1 percent, to 16,446.71, the S&P 500 lost 1.01 points or 0.05 percent, to 1,836.48 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 8.03 points or 0.19 percent, to 4,157.581.

Macy's was a bright spot for retailers, as shares jumped 7.4 percent to $55.70 a day after the department store operator reported strong holiday sales and gave a preliminary forecast for 2014 that suggests it will continue to outpace its rivals.

Costco Wholesale Corp climbed 4.1 percent to $118.74 after the company's December same-store sales beat analysts' expectations.

Still, many U.S. retailers had ramped up promotions as shoppers continued to watch their spending during the holiday season, hitting profits at several chains.

Healthcare sector stocks continued to shine, with the S&P healthcare index up 0.6 percent as the best performing of the 10 major S&P indexes.

U.S. drugs wholesaler McKesson added 3.3 percent to $175.40 after it raised its offer for German peer Celesio , persuading a hedge fund that had been blocking the multi-billion dollar deal to agree to sell some of its shares.

Intercept Pharmaceuticals Inc rocketed more than 290 percent to $282.45 after it said an analysis by an independent safety committee showed its liver disease drug met the main goal of a mid-stage trial.

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