Major indices ended flat on Thursday after investors hesitated from placing big bets ahead of the Friday’s non-farm payroll data. Non-farm payroll numbers may provide some indication about whether the Fed will announce any further cuts in its massive bond buying program during its upcoming meeting. Meanwhile, the number of Americans filing for the unemployment benefits declined in the previous week. The technology sector was the biggest loser among the S&P 500 industry groups, pulled down by AT&T and Verizon Communications. Health care stocks gained the most.
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The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) dropped 0.1% to close the day at 16444.76. The S&P 500 gained 0.03% to finish yesterday’s trading session at 1838.13. The tech-laden Nasdaq Composite Index declined 0.2% to end at 4156.19. The fear-gauge CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) inched up 0.2% to settle at 12.89. Composite volume on the New York Stock Exchange was 3.58 billion shares. Advancing stocks outnumbered the decliners. For the 51% that advanced, 46% declined.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor reported a decline in initial claim numbers. The number of Americans filing for the unemployment benefits declined 15,000 to 330,000 from the previous month’s revised figure of 345,000. This was below the consensus estimate of 333,000. The four week moving average also fell by 9,750 from the prior week’s revised figure of 358,750.
The Fed had set certain economic targets before it could begin tapering its stimulus program. Employment data was being closely examined and an improvement in the labor market situation can be cited as one of the reasons behind the taper call. Friday’s non-farm payrolls data will be closely monitored by Federal Reserve’s top official to decide the future of bond buying program. Last month, the central bank had announced that it will reduce the pace of bond purchase from $85 to $75 billion per month, starting January. Better-than-expected initial claims numbers has added to the increasing list of indicators that Friday’s jobs report will be stronger.
Investors are not only worried about the taper but are also concerned about fourth quarter corporate earnings. Most retail companies have reduced their earnings forecasts after offering sharp discounts during the holidays. Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (NASDAQ:BBBY) tumbled more than 12% after the company decreased its fourth quarter and full year earnings forecasts. On the encouraging side, Macy’s, Inc. (NYSE:M) jumped nearly 8% after the company reported strong holiday sales and projected 2014 profits that surpassed the Street’s estimates.
The technology sector was the biggest loser among the S&P 500 industry groups after shares of both AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) declined more than 2%. Shares of both the company declined after T-Mobile US Inc. (NYSE:TMUS) reported higher growth in its customer base. The company has said it will pay customers to switch from other services. Other stocks such as Leap Wireless International, Inc. (NASDAQ:LEAP) and Telephone & Data Systems, Inc. (NYSE:TDS) declined 0.1% and 0.9%, respectively.
The health care sector was the bright spot for the day and the Health Care SPDR (XLV) gained 0.8%. Stock such as Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Amgen, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN), Gilead Sciences, Inc. (NASDAQ:GILD), Edwards Lifesciences Corp (NYSE:EW) and Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY) added 0.6%, 2.6%, 1.1%, 2.5% and 1.1%, respectively.
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