U.S. stocks swung between gains and losses in afternoon trading on Thursday, as investors tracked oil prices while weighing poor corporate earnings and weak economic data ahead of a key employment report due on Friday.
At 2:43 p.m. in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.1%. The S&P 500 index dropped 0.3%, while the NASDAQ 100 index slid 0.5%.
Oil prices settled in negative territory, erasing early gains. West Texas Intermediate for March delivery finished at $31.72 per barrel, down 1.7%.
The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased by 8,000 claims to a seasonally adjusted 285,000 for the week ended January 30, as the Department of Labor reported.
Another report on Thursday showed that the productivity of U.S. businesses declined at a three-percent annual pace in the fourth quarter, marking the biggest drop in almost two years. Weak U.S. economic data are fueling investor hopes that the Federal Reserve might decelerate the pace of rate hikes this year.
A third report showed orders for goods manufactures in U.S. factories skidded 2.9% in December.
Investors are now focused on an employment report due on Friday to scrutinize further signs about economic momentum. The report is expected to show that employers added 190,000 jobs in January, according to Reuters.
The U.S. dollar continued its slide, with the ICE dollar index down 0.9%.
European markets finished mixed. The FTSE closed up 1.1%, while Germany’s DAX fell 0.4% and France’s CAC 40 closed to little change.
Gold marked its highest settlement since October, helped by further weakness in the U.S. dollar, and growing demand for the yellow metal. April gold rose 1.4% to finish at $1,157.50 an ounce.
Kohl’s Corporation (NYSE:KSS) dove 19% to $41.36 after touching $40.95, its lowest price in seven years. The department store chain cut its full-year earnings forecast, pointing to weak sales during the holiday quarter.
GoPro Inc (NASDAQ:GPRO) fell 5.4% to $10.12 after hitting a 52-week low of $9.01. The action camera company guided for downbeat results for the current quarter after swinging to a loss in the most recent quarter. The company’s latest cube-shaped camera didn’t sell well at Christmas.
Ralph Lauren Corp (NYSE:RL) tumbled 21% to $91.92. The upscale apparel company known for “Polo” and other brands trailed market expectations on its fiscal third-quarter sales and trimmed its full-year forecast.
Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE:PM) retreated 1.3% to $88.61. The world’s largest publicly traded tobacco company lagged behind fourth-quarter revenue expectations. The seller of the “Marlboro” brand said it anticipates international cigarette volume, excluding China and the U.S., to drop two percent to 2.5%.
ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) slipped 7.6% to $35.72. The Houston, Texas-based company became the first U.S. oil giant to cut its quarterly dividend to preserve cash in the face of the continuous slump in crude prices.