U.S. stocks recovered most of their losses but ended lower on Thursday after weak employment and durable goods data added to recent worries about the strength of the economic recovery.
Trading started on a sour note, but rumors of a 4-for-1 stock split planned by Apple Inc coincided with a late-day rebound in stocks. A spokesman said the company has not made an announcement of a stock split. The Nasdaq reaped most of the benefit of Apple's rebound and the index ended just short of break-even.
Some analysts said the broader move was a result of an oversold market earlier in the session.
The market might be beginning to believe that there was some overreaction, and now (they) are looking at it as a buying opportunity, said Jeff Kleintop, chief market strategist at LPL Financial in Boston.
Still, poor news on durable goods orders excluding transportation, which unexpectedly fell in January, and a jump in weekly jobless claims, fed negativity. The data came on top of disappointing reports on consumer sentiment and home prices and sales earlier this week.
Industrial and financial shares ranked among the biggest drags on the S&P 500. JP Morgan Chase & Co slipped 0.5 percent to close at $40.64 on the New York Stock Exchange.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> shed 53.13 points, or 0.51 percent, to 10,321.03. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> declined 2.30 points, or 0.21 percent, to 1,102.94. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> dipped 1.68 points, or 0.08 percent, to close at 2,234.22.
Concerns about the debt loads of some euro-zone countries were revived after rating agencies said they might downgrade Greece's sovereign debt rating. The news added to investor anxiety ahead of a new 10-year bond Greece will issue in the next few weeks.
Moody's said a change in Greece's rating would depend on whether Athens could smoothly enact a fiscal reform plan, while Standard & Poor's said a downgrade by one or two notches in the next month was possible. The move could increase borrowing costs and exacerbate Greece's problems.
Coca-Cola Co contributed the most to the Dow's slide after it said it will acquire the North American bottling businesses of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc for about $13 billion. Coke shares fell 3.7 percent to $53.12, while CCE soared 32.9 percent to $25.48.
POLISHING APPLE, FOLLOWING 'SCRIPTS'
Apple was among the Nasdaq's leaders, gaining 0.7 percent to $202.01. Also buoying the index, Express Scripts jumped 8.5 percent to $95.23 after at least three brokerages raised their price target on the company's stock.
Health insurance stocks were in focus as U.S. President Barack Obama and Republicans clashed at a summit on his stalled healthcare overhaul. The Morgan Stanley healthcare payor index <.HMO> spent most of the day in the negative before ending up just 0.02 percent.
Also in Washington, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in his second day of congressional testimony that U.S. regulators are looking into how Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs helped Greece arrange derivatives deals that critics say were used to disguise the size of its budget deficits.
About 8.5 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, below last year's estimated daily average of 9.65 billion.
Advancing stocks narrowly outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,512 to 1,504, while on the Nasdaq, decliners beat advancers 1,500 to 1,121.
(Reporting by Leah Schnurr: Editing by Jan Paschal)