A trader works on the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., March 7, 2022.
A trader works on the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., March 7, 2022. Reuters / ANDREW KELLY

The S&P 500 index was flat on Thursday as losses in Apple and energy firms dampened the bullish sentiment that had fueled a rally in the previous session, with investors awaiting monthly jobs data for cues on the path of future interest rate hikes.

Apple weighed the most on the benchmark index, shedding 0.3%, a day after surging 3.8%. The energy sector dipped 2.3%, tracking lower oil prices on fears of a slowdown in demand. [O/R]

After a dull start to August, Wall Street's main indexes rallied on Wednesday as a slew of strong results from companies including PayPal Inc and CVS Health added to an upbeat sentiment about the second-quarter reporting season.

"We are in this honeymoon period where past earnings have been good, including the ones just reported, and inflation looks like it is moderating," said Christopher Grisanti, chief equity strategist at MAI Capital Management.

"The battle right now is how serious concerns about recession will become and so far the market seems less concerned that there is a recession coming."

That view was echoed by a batch of data that showed services activity unexpectedly rebounded in July and supply and price pressures eased, while the U.S. trade deficit narrowed sharply in June as exports surged to a record high.

Focus is now on Friday's employment report, which is expected to show nonfarm payrolls likely increased by 250,000 jobs last month, after rising by 372,000 jobs in June. The data is crucial as the U.S. Federal Reserve attempts to cool labor demand to tame inflation.

"If you get a somewhat weak number, the market will take that as good news because the Fed's tightening is beginning to work and maybe they will not have to do quite as much," Grisanti said.

The benchmark index has gained nearly 13.8% from its mid-June lows, but is still in a bear market and down 13% for the year on concerns around the fallout of the Ukraine war, soaring inflation, COVID-19 flare-ups in China and an aggressive rise in borrowing costs.

At 12:13 p.m. ET on Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 52.68 points, or 0.16%, at 32,759.82, the S&P 500 was up 1.40 points, or 0.03%, at 4,156.57, and the Nasdaq Composite was up 36.65 points, or 0.29%, at 12,704.81.

Tesla Inc rose 0.3% ahead of an investor vote on a variety of matters including a three-for-one stock split that would make the company's shares more accessible.

Health insurer Cigna Corp gained 3.8% after raising its annual profit forecast.

Drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co slipped 3% as it cut annual profit view for the second time.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.04-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.26-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded one new 52-week high and 29 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 39 new highs and 25 new lows.