U.S. stocks edged lower on Thursday as persistent concerns about the economy offset data showing U.S. weekly jobless claims fell more than expected.
Wall Street rose soon after the data, but another part of the Labor Department report regarded as better reflecting trends rose to a nine-month high, suggesting the labor market still remains pressured.
Investors were also cautious about making bets on stocks before a meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where central bankers from around the world have converged to assess the darkening economic outlook.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in a speech on Friday is likely to discuss the uncertain prospects for the economy but isn't expected to give many clues about whether the U.S. central bank will pump more cash into the economy to keep the recovery going.
Bernanke will try to keep everyone calm as usual ... but the fact is there are no bulls out there and everyone is just too bearish (to be calmed), said Keith Springer, president of Capital Financial Advisory Services in Sacramento, California.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 30.66 points, or 0.30 percent, at 10,029.40. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 2.61 points, or 0.25 percent, at 1,052.72. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was down 8.68 points, or 0.41 percent, at 2,132.86.
Healthcare and consumer staple shares were the biggest losers among the S&P 500 sectors. On the blue-chip Dow, Kraft Foods
Major indexes are off about 6.5 percent from their August 9 high because investors have grown concerned about the sharp slowdown in the economy and some even fear a double-dip recession as data shows deteriorating growth.
Reflecting concerns about the economy, the percentage of individual investors who expect stocks to rise in coming months fell to the lowest level since March 2009.
The American Association of Individual Investors' measurement of stock market sentiment showed the day's Bull reading was at 20.7, down from 30.1 last week and at the lowest level since March 2009 when it was 18.9. Bears, however, rose 7 points on the week to 49.5. In March of 2009, Bears hit 70.3.
In merger news, data storage company 3PAR Inc
Shares of Dell rose 0.6 percent to $11.85 and HP, a Dow component, was up 0.6 percent at $38.47. [ID:nN26185803] 3PAR shares dipped 2.4 percent to $26.11.
Birinyi Associates lowered its year-end estimate for the S&P 500 to 1,225 from 1,325, noting there is an increasing chance that the market could get stuck in a trading range.
(Reporting by Angela Moon, Editing by Kenneth Barry)