The Dow managed a slim gain on Thursday while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq shook off most of their earlier losses to end slightly lower, as investors took advantage of a selloff to buy blue chips that have been rallying throughout the quarter.
The Dow industrials sharply erased losses in the last half hour of trading and closed up 0.2 percent.
Despite the S&P 500 marking its third day of declines, the benchmark index is still up 2.8 percent for the month and nearly 12 percent for the year. It has gained almost 12 percent this quarter, its best start to the year since 1998 and its best quarter since the third period of 2009.
It's hard to take away the end-of-the-quarter price action. People are buying winning stocks, and the claims data, which was a bit shy of expectations, is still showing that we are at OK levels. That's enough to keep investors happy, said Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group in New York.
Among Dow components, Coca-Cola Co
New U.S. jobless claims fell to a four-year low last week but fell short of forecasts and the previous week's figures were revised higher. Analysts said the recent declines in weekly claims may be leveling off, a sign that improvement in the job market may be stalling.
An S&P index of financials <.GSPF>, a group closely tied to prospects for economic growth, fell 1 percent, worst of the 10 S&P 500 sectors. Wells Fargo & Co
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 19.61 points, or 0.15 percent, to 13,145.82 at the close. But the Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> slipped 2.26 points, or 0.16 percent, to 1,403.28. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> shed 9.60 points, or 0.31 percent, to 3,095.36.
Other data showed U.S. household income grew at a faster pace in the fourth quarter than previously thought, which could help underpin spending this quarter, according to the Commerce Department's final estimate of growth in gross domestic product for the quarter.
Some analysts are looking for a market pullback early in the second quarter after the strong early run as investors seek confirmation that the economy is not about to slow.
Shares of JetBlue Airways
Best Buy Co Inc
Red Hat Inc
In the retail sector, the shares of watch and accessories company Fossil Inc
About 6.80 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the Amex. For the year to date, the daily average volume is 6.83 billion.
Decliners outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by a ratio of about 3 to 2, while on the Nasdaq, seven stocks fell for every five that rose.
(Editing by Jan Paschal)