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.
After erasing a 130-point deficit and rising as much as 52 points, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 3.66 points at 16,801.05.
Halting a three-session losing streak, the held steady at 1,946.17, with consumer discretionary faring best and energy the worst performing of its 10 major sectors.
The CBOE Volatility Index, one measure of investor uncertainty, reversed lower, off 3.3 percent at 16.16.
The Nasdaq climbed 8.11 points, or 0.2 percent, at 4,430.19.
After finishing more than 10 percent down from its record on Wednesday, leaving it in correction territory, the Russell 2000 erased Thursday losses and turned positive.
For every seven stocks that fell, roughly eight rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where nearly 800 million shares traded. Composite volume surpassed 4 billion.
The U.S. dollar turned higher against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners and dollar-priced commodities were mixed.
"The fact that the euro and yen are up is not a surprise because the dollar got ahead of itself; we have a technical bounce here due to an overbought dollar situation," said Cardillo.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note used to figure mortgage rates and other consumer loans rose 5 basis points to 2.436 percent.
On Wednesday, U.S. stocks declined sharply, with the fourth quarter starting off on a dour note after the S&P 500's seventh quarterly gain, as investors fretted global concerns, mixed U.S. economic data and earnings ahead.
Coming Up This Week:
8:30 a.m.: Employment report
8:30 a.m.: International trade
10:00 a.m.: ISM nonmanufacturing
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