U.S. stocks fluctuated on Thursday after the S&P 500 and Dow rose to records, with energy companies slammed as the price of oil fell, countering upbeat earnings from the world's largest retailer and data showing jobless claims holding at a 14-year low.
"If you think of it as the distribution of wealth and income from producers of petroleum to consumers, it makes sense oil stocks get hurt and consumer discretionary does better. We are seeing that mix," said Jeff Greenberg, senior economist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank..
"Today we're right around those unchanged levels that happen to be all-time highs, which are causing investors to be cautious," said Erik Davidson, deputy chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank.
"The volatility is probably being driven by oil, which is off pretty significantly," Davidson added of the decline that had West Texas Intermediate falling to a four-year low below $75 a barrel.
The Labor Department on Thursday reported initial claims for state unemployment benefits climbed 12,000 to 290,000 last week, above the 280,000 forecast but beneath 300,000 for a ninth consecutive week.
Separate figures from the Labor Department had hiring at its highest level in more than six years.
"It makes sense that the U.S. equity market is near all-time highs when our read on the U.S. economy is the strongest that it's looked since the financial crisis," said Greenberg.
Of the 460 S&P 500 companies that have reported quarterly earnings, 74.6 percent have topped expectations, according to numbers compiled by Thomson Reuters.
Wal-Mart Stores climbed after the company reported a larger-than-expected profit as comparable sales at U.S. stores climbed for the first quarter in seven. J.C. Penney shares declined after the retailer posted a less-than-estimated quarterly loss but said same-store sales were flat.