Stocks slipped on Thursday as soft retail sales and a sharp rise in the dollar left investors edgy a day before December's U.S. employment report.

Given a rise of about 8 percent in the S&P 500 since the start of December, investors could be looking for an excuse to sell stocks if the jobs report falls short of forecasts that were raised after Wednesday's strong private-sector payroll report.

If tomorrow's payroll numbers don't live up to expectations, that could create the correction that some have been predicting, said Paul Radeke, vice president at Minneapolis-based KDV Wealth Management.

Investors expect a gain of 175,000 in overall non-farm payrolls in December and a decline in the unemployment rate to 9.7 percent from 9.8 percent.

Several big retailers missed estimates in their December comparable sales, news that weighed on consumer shares. Target Corp fell 6.8 percent to $54.91 and Gap Inc was 6.9 percent lower at $20.70.

The S&P retail index <.RLX> lost 1.6 percent while the S&P consumer discretionary sector <.GSPD> fell 0.7 percent.

The weakness was both surprising and disturbing, said Walter Todd, chief investment officer at Greenwood Capital Associates in Greenwood, South Carolina. It makes me think it had more to do with weather than fundamentals.

The U.S. dollar rose 0.7 percent, helping send crude prices down 2.2 percent. Oilfield services company Halliburton Co dropped 3 percent to $38.22 while U.S. Steel Corp shed 2.5 percent to $59.06.

Demand for commodities should continue to improve, but in the short term there's a negative correlation between the dollar and commodities, Todd said. That's hard to escape on a day-to-day basis.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 25.65 points, or 0.22 percent, at 11,697.24. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 2.71 points, or 0.21 percent, at 1,273.85. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 7.69 points, or 0.28 percent, at 2,709.89.

The Nasdaq was buoyed by Nvidia , which surged 14 percent to $19.33 on optimism over a new mobile chip.

Also among Nasdaq gainers was Microsoft Corp , which rose 2.9 percent to $28.82 after it took a step away from its alliance with Intel Corp to team up with Britain's ARM Holdings in the tablet and smart phone arena. Intel fell 0.8 percent to $20.77.

Telecommunications shares were among top drags on the Dow, with AT&T down 1.4 percent at $29.15 and Verizon Communications off 2.6 percent to $36.23.

New jobless claims rose more than expected in the last week, though the four-week average dropped to its lowest in more than 2 years.

About three stocks fell for every two that rose on the New York Stock Exchange while on the Nasdaq about five stocks fell for every four that rose.

About 8.39 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, below last year's daily average of 8.47 billion.

(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Kenneth Barry)