Stocks dipped on Thursday despite data showing that the number of people filing for jobless benefits fell to the lowest level in about 17 months, with indexes on track for the best yearly gains since 2003.

Initial jobless claims fell by 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 432,000 for the week. High unemployment poses a hurdle for a nascent economic recovery.

The trend is certainly going in the right way, said Bruce Zaro, chief technical strategist at Delta Global Advisors in Boston.

The market has been cognizant of the improving trend in the labor market and is trying to anticipate when the Federal Reserve will start to talk about raising interest rates as a result, Zaro said.

Volume is expected to be light through the day, with many investors out for the holidays. The market is closed Friday for New Year's Day.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> slipped 25.39 points, or 0.24 percent, to 10,523.12. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was off 1.38 points, or 0.12 percent, to 1,125.04. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> dipped 3.18 points, or 0.14 percent, to 2,288.10.

Going into the final trading day of the year, the broad S&P 500 is up nearly 25 percent for 2009, on track for its best performance since 2003. The gains come on the heels of a 38.5 percent slide in 2008, Wall Street's worst year since the Great Depression.

Despite the run-up, Wall Street is also set to cap its first-ever negative decade on a total-return basis, even with dividends reinvested.

Walt Disney Co was the Dow's best performer, up 1 percent at $32.61 after Marvel Entertainment Inc shareholders approved a merger with Disney.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe.)