The Dow and S&P 500 edged higher on Thursday after a better-than-expected read on weekly jobless claims, a day before the release of key monthly non-farm payrolls data.
Retail stocks also provided a lift after many companies posted December same-store sales that were above consensus.
The Labor Department said the number of people filing initial jobless claims edged up last week, though by less than expected.
For Friday's report, a new Reuters poll suggests that the economy stopped shedding jobs in December, ending two years of uninterrupted cuts.
The claims data was positive and shows that we're heading in the right direction to start generating jobs soon, said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at RDM Financial in Westport, Connecticut.
However, we could pull back on tomorrow's number if it shows further weakness or comes in so strong that it means the Fed could start tightening policy soon.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 6.42 points, or 0.06 percent, to 10,580.10. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> rose 1.45 points, or 0.13 percent, to 1,138.59. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> fell 7.79 points, or 0.34 percent, at 2,293.30.
The Nasdaq was pressured after Google Inc
A majority of retailers posted better-than-expected December sales, according to Thomson Reuters data, sending the S&P retail index <.RLX> up 0.5 percent.
Still, Abercrombie & Fitch
Sears Holding Corp
The top performer among S&P sectors was the financials <.GSPF>, which gained 1.8 percent after Credit Suisse upgraded Bank of America
The Dow's top drag was 3M Co
In another positive sign for the crucial labor market, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said the U.S. labor market was improving and that the economy was close to the point where unemployment would start to fall.
(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Jan Paschal)