Stocks were little changed on Thursday as a labor market report indicating the economy was slowly recovering was not enough to push equities past a stiff technical level after a strong start to the year.
With a Greek debt deal reached this week, investors switched their attention back to U.S. economic data and corporate results for market direction.
New U.S. claims for unemployment insurance held at 351,000 last week, the lowest level since the early days of the 2007-2009 recession, a fresh sign the battered labor market was healing.
The trend is right there at about 350,000 and that puts us right smack in the middle of the 300,000 to 400,000 sweet spot that you need to see confirming the economy is on the mend from a job creation perspective, said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors in New York.
But the data failed to boost the benchmark S&P 500 index, which again faced a tough test in piercing the 1,360 level, a 10-month high seen as a key resistance point. The index has been unable to break convincingly above that point over the last several sessions.
While a convincing break above 1,360 could trigger more gains, the likelihood of a pullback increases with each failed attempt. The S&P has risen more than 20 percent from its October lows and is up 8 percent for the year.
In order for us to get to the next level, either we need to see a little bit of a pullback that will draw in some investors who have been sitting on the sidelines, or we need to see some significant fundamental surprises coming out of domestic economic fundamentals, Europe, Washington, the emerging markets or the Middle East, said Orlando.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was up 14.38 points, or 0.11 percent, at 12,953.05. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 1.45 points, or 0.11 percent, at 1,356.21. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> added 2.79 points, or 0.10 percent, at 2,935.96.
Fellow retailer Target Corp
Sears Holdings Corp
Other companies expected to post earnings later Thursday include Salesforce.com Inc
According to Thomson Reuters data through Thursday morning, of the 446 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 63 percent topped analysts' expectations.
(Reporting By Chuck Mikolajczak; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)