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US stocks close narrowly mixed as energy, data weigh

U.S. stocks closed narrowly mixed on Thursday, with stocks near recent highs, as lackluster economic data and oil concerns weighed on investor sentiment.

"We tend to get vertical when we get close to all-time highs," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities. He noted that while economic data could be interpreted as fairly positive, oil continued to trade sideways as concerns about oversupply persisted.

Crude oil futures settled down 5.53 percent at $48.17 a barrel. Brent fell to trade below $61 a barrel on Thursday.

Energy fell nearly 2 percent as the greatest decliner in the S&P 500.

Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Caterpillar each fell more than one percent as some of the greatest blue chip laggards.The Dow Jones industrial average briefly flirted with positive territory, led by Cisco, Johnson & Johnson and McDonald's.

The Nasdaq came within 11 points of reaching the key 5,000 level last touched in March 2000, during the height of the tech bubble.

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The core Consumer Price Index, the key figure for the Fed that excludes more volatile food and energy prices, gained 0.2 percent in January. However, the broader index was down more than expected at 0.7 percent. Expectations were for a further sharp drop of 0.6 percent month on month, the biggest fall since 2008, driven by energy prices to leave the year-on-year rate in negative territory.

"The Fed should not be leaning on low inflation reads for comfort because all we need is an uptick in commodity prices (or for them to at least stop going down) and the consensus picture on inflation will change quickly," Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, said in a note.

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Durable goods orders figures for January increased a more-than-expected 2.8 percent, after a 3.4 percent decline in the prior month.

Initial claims for unemployment for the week of Feb. 15, came in at 313,000. Analysts had expected the figure to increase moderately to 285,000 from 283,000 the week prior.

"I think (Thursday's declines are from) the jobless claims jumping back above 300,000," said Chris Gaffney, senior market strategist at EverBank Wealth Management. "The markets were expecting to see better information on jobless claims. Jumping back above 300,000 is a negative."

However, with stocks still near recently touched records, several analysts said the slight pullback was expected.

"The market might be due for a pause here as we move towards March," said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. He noted rather high multiples of 17.8 on current earnings in the S&P 500.

"The market is showing a bit of fatigue here because you're at high levels," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. He expected Thursday to be a mixed session.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed at a record on Wednesday, while the Nasdaq attempted to reach the key 5,000 level.

In other news, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission classified Internet as a public utility with a 3-2 vote approving net neutrality rules on Thursday.

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 10.1 points, or 0.06 percent, to 18,214.42, with Caterpillar the greatest laggard and McDonald's leading gains.

Another laggard, IBM, announced at its annual investors' meeting that the firm will spend $4 billion on cloud, analytics, mobile, social and security businesses in 2015.

The S&P 500 closed down 3.10 points, or 0.15 percent, to 2,110.76, with energy leading six sectors lower and information technology the greatest advancer.

The Nasdaq closed up 20.75 points, or 0.42 percent, to 4,987.89. Avago Technologies, Google and VimpelCom were among the leaders. Apple initially declined before closing up more than 1 percent on news of a special event on March 9.

Decliners were a step ahead of advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 717 million and a composite volume of 3.3 billion in the close.

The U.S. 10-year Treasury yield climbed above 2 percent. The U.S. dollar advanced against major world currencies.

Gold futures settled up $8.60 to $1,210.10 an ounce.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded near14.

In corporate earnings news, Sears reported an adjusted quarterly loss of $1.37 per share, smaller than the $1.89 consensus estimates. Revenue was below consensus, and same-store sales at both Sears and Kmart fell. Sears also said it expects to complete its previously announced spinoff of 200 to 300 stores into a REIT by May or June, which should bring in more than $2 billion.

Kohl's posted quarterly profit of $1.83 per share, 3 cents above estimates, with revenue very slightly above forecasts. Kohl's also increased its dividend by 15 percent to 45 cents per share from the prior 39 cents.

"The overall impact (of cheap oil) is mixed," said John Tomlinson, head of retail at ITG Investment Research. "It's clearly much more apparent in the retailers that are leveraged to the lower end."

He noted that same-store sales have increased for several retailers in that category, including Kohl's.

The Victoria's Secret parent L Brands reported quarterly profit of $1.89 per share, 9 cents above estimates, while revenue was also above forecasts. However, its current quarter and full-year outlook is below analyst forecasts.

An expanded partnership agreement between Dunkin' Brands, JM Smucker, Keurig Green Mountain will mean Dunkin's K-Cup coffee packs will now be sold online and in stores. Previously, they had only been available in Dunkin' Donuts locations. Smucker will market those Keurig-made K-Cups to grocery chains and club stores, while Keurig will market to specialty stores and office supplies stores.

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Autodesk, Gap, Herbalife, JC Penney, Weight Watchers and Splunk are due to report after the bell.

European equities closed higher on Thursday as investors reacted to a raft of corporate earnings and fresh economic data.

CNBC's Peter Schacknow contributed to this report.

On tap this week:

Thursday

Earnings: Autodesk, Gap, Ross Stores, United Health Services, Herbalife, JCPenney, Live Nation Ent., Splunk, Weight Watchers

4:30 p.m.: Fed balance sheet/money supply

Friday

8:30 a.m.: GDP

9:45 a.m.: Chicago PMI

10:00 a.m.: Consumer Sentiment

10:00 a.m.: Pending Home Sales

10:15 a.m.: Fed's Dudley speaks

10:15 a.m.: Fed's Mester speaks

1:30 p.m.: Fed's Fischer speaks

3:00 p.m.: Farm prices

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