Stocks End Mixed in Choppy Session; Banks Sag

Stocks came off their worst levels in a volatile session Thursday, but still closed mixed as investors remained cautious following JPMorgan earnings and a tepid Chinese economic report.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 40.72 points, or 0.35 percent, to finish at 11,478.13. BofA and JPMorgan led the blue-chip laggards, while Intel gained.

The S&P 500 slipped 3.59 points, or 0.30 percent, to end at 1,203.66, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq gained 15.51 points, or 0.60 percent, to close at 2,620.24.

Despite the day's decline, the major averages remain on pace for their best weekly gains in four weeks.

The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, finished below 31.

Among the key S&P sectors, financials lagged, while techs were higher.

"You’re not going to see stocks break out until you see some hard news that’s beyond sentiment," Michael Yoshikami of YCMNET Advisors told CNBC. "The Fed is out there possibly pondering doing something and another thing to watch for is earnings...You’re going to see earnings be fairly positive as oil prices having been down a bit as well as unemployment so high."

However, earnings season got off to a weaker start than expected. JPMorgan slipped after the banking giant reported lower net income, as the European debt crisis set back corporate dealmaking. Other major U.S. banks fell following the news, including Citigroup and Morgan Stanley .

Meanwhile, Chinese trade data was weaker than expected, with the trade surplus narrowing for the second consecutive month, reigniting worries about the global economy.

In Europe, Slovakia's parliament ratified a plan to bolster the euro zone's EFSF rescue fund, completing the approval process as the last member of the common currency area.

Techs got a lift thanks to semiconductors. Broadcom rallied after Baird raises its rating on the chipmaker to "outperform" from "neutral" and lifted its price target to $46 from $35. Rivals Intel, Texas Instruments and Micron were also higher.

Meanwhile, Research In Motion said its services, crippled by outages over the past three days, have improved significantly but some users across the world were still experiencing delays. Still, shares declined more than 3 percent.

Apple obtained a legal victory when an Australian court put a temporary ban on sales of Samsung's latest tablet computer.

AOL rose amid news the struggling BlackBerry company has been meeting with shareholders to talk about a possible sale to Yahoo, according to a Reuters report.

Netflix gained after the movie-streaming firm forged a four-year deal with CW Network, which will allow subscribers to watch full previous seasons of CW shows. CW shows are not available on competitor Hulu's service.

Akamai rallied amid rumor Google may be interested in buying the Internet content delivery network. Google is scheduled to report earnings after-the-bell.

Beazer Homes soared after the homebuilder said its quarterly orders rose by a third, suggesting an improvement in the housing market after a prolonged slump. Walt Disney declined after Credit Suisse cut its price target on the media conglomerate to $40 from $43.

PetSmart rallied after the pet products and services company raised its third-quarter and full-year earnings outlooks, helped by better-than-expected revenue at same-store sales.

Treasurys prices extended their gainsafter the government auctioned $13 billion in 30-year bonds at a high yield of 3.120 percent and a bid-to-cover of 2.94.

On the economic front, weekly jobless claims dipped 1,000 last weekto a seasonally adjusted 404,000, according to the Labor Department, from an upwardly revised 405,000 in the prior week. Economists had forecast claims rising to 405,000 according to a Reuters poll.

Trade deficit came in slightly lower than expected at $45.61 billion in August from $45.63 billion in July, according to the Commerce Department. Economists had expected a gap of $45.8 billion, according to a Reuters poll.

And, mortgage default notices spiked in the third quarter, according to RealtyTrac data, while bank seizures of homes were down.

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On Tap This Week:

FRIDAY: Retail sales, import/export sales, consumer sentiment, business inventories, new iPhones available; Earnings from Mattel

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