U.S. stocks fell on Thursday, with benchmarks not far from record highs, as investors considered reports that the European Central Bank would consider a broad-based package of quantitative easing in January and awaited the monthly jobs report.
"We think the jobs report tomorrow will come in near consensus at about 225,000, which would be the 10th straight month of jobs over 200,000, so the jobs market is improving," said Sean Lynch, managing director of global equity research and strategy for Wells Fargo Private Bank.
Comments from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi had thrown cold water on hopes the ECB would begin a program of sovereign-debt purchases called quantitative easing. The central bank held interest rates at a record low.
"The sense of urgency that Draghi had appeared to express in recent speeches did not seem to be reflected in the press conference," Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman, wrote in emailed research.
"Many participants had expected something more, including a commitment on sovereign bonds," Chandler added.
Stocks reversed briefly higher, however, after Bloomberg News cited two euro-zone central bank officials familiar with the deliberations in reporting the ECB would consider additional stimulus measure in early 2015.
"While the Bloomberg headline made this out to be breaking news, it is nothing new as we know the ECB is looking at all things to increase the size of their balance sheet and (ECB President Mario) Draghi said as much today. The question is if, timing, extent and how much support on the council does Draghi get because it won't come from the Germans," emailed Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at the Lindsey Group.
CNBC confirmed with a source the story first reported by Bloomberg News.
"Today the market is being driven by energy stocks being hit with lower oil prices and then the comments from the ECB. People were expecting a little more detail in terms of when he (Draghi) would initiate some outright bond buying and activity," said Lynch.
"Eventually QE will have to happen; I'm not too concerned with the comments today," Lynch added.
"When you have a sector off 14 to 15 percent over the past quarter, it's hard to hit new highs," said Lynch of the impact of oil's fall on the broader market.