Wall Street stocks drifted lower at the open on Thursday as investors took a breather after the S&P 500 posted its best gains since August in a powerful rally, and looked ahead to closely watched employment data on Friday.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> dropped 21.34 points, or 0.18 percent, to 12,024.34. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> fell 3.50 points, or 0.28 percent, to 1,243.46. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was off 6.18 points, or 0.24 percent, to 2,614.16.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)