U.S. stocks fluctuated on Thursday, a day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose to a record finish, as investors took a cautious approach a day before the April nonfarm payrolls report.
"People are getting ready for the unemployment report tomorrow, so claims being up might be a slight drag on the market," said David Kelly, chief market strategist at J.P. Morgan Funds, referring to the Labor Department's report that had initial claims for unemployment benefits rising by 14,000 to 344,000 last week. The four-week moving average gained 3,000 to 320,000.
The four-week moving average, which stood at 352,000 in December, "has gone done every month" since, said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities.
Exxon Mobil rose after the oil producer reported first-quarter profit declined less than expected. Avon Products fell sharply after the beauty products company lower-than-expected revenue and earnings for the first quarter, and disclosed it will pay the government $135 million to settle a bribery probe into its overseas practices.
Also supporting equities is M&A activity, which 2,470 deals completed globally in April, the highest monthly volume since July of 2007, according to Dealogic.
"There is more good news than bad today, and that's important, because we got our share of bad news with the GDP report," said Hogan of Thursday's worse-than-expected report, which had the government estimating the U.S. economy grew just 0.1 percent in the first quarter.
"The fact that they (stocks) were so much in the green, at a record high, is also having some impact. The economy is improving, but when I look at first-quarter GDP, it's clearly an economy crouching into the spring, but the crouching is more impressive than the spring," Kelly added.
A separate report from the Commerce Department on Thursday had consumer spending jumping the most in nearly five years in March, up 0.9 percent, while the Institute for Supply Management's factory index rose to 54.9 in April from 53.7 the month before.
Thursday's data comes before Friday's April employment report, with the government expected to report nonfarm payrolls increasing by 210,000 last month.
"We'll get a more defined market reaction tomorrow than today," said Kelly.
Trading in a 75-point range on either side of neutral, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 21 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,558.87.
After rising to within reach of its record close hit on April 2, the finished little changed at 1,883.68, with utilities and consumer discretionary faring best and materials and energy falling hardest among its 10 major industry groups.
The Nasdaq rose 12.90 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,127.45.
The CBOE Volatility Index, a measure of investor uncertainty, fell 1.2 percent to 13.25.
Advancers ran just ahead of decliners on the New York Stock Exchange, where nearly 699 million shares traded. Composite volume topped 3.4 billion.
The dollar rose against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note used in figuring mortgage rates and other consumer loans fell 3 basis points to 2.614 percent.
On Wednesday, stocks rose, with the Dow hitting its first record close of the year, as Wall Street welcomed an anticipated reduction in the Fed's monthly bond purchases.
—By CNBC's Kate Gibson
Coming Up This Week:
10:00 a.m.: ISM manufacturing
10:00 a.m.: Construction spending
8:30 a.m.: Employment
10:00 a.m.: Factory orders
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