Updated from 3:41 p.m. EST
Blue-chips eased Thursday but tech stocks inched higher on a day when investors dealt with a slew of monthly sales reports from the retail sector and lukewarm economic data.
Overseas, European stocks were mostly higher on hopes of a worldwide economic recovery, with London's FTSE 100 gaining 0.7% to 5370. Germany's Xetra DAX added 0.2% at 5271. Asian closed higher on the strength of technology stocks, particularly chipmakers. The Nikkei 225 finished up 1.3% to 10,857, and the Hang Seng gained 0.6% to close at 11,746.The U.S. Labor Department said that initial jobless claims fell to 475,000 in the week ended Dec. 1 from 493,000 the previous week. Still, the number of claims came in higher than the 460,000 consensus. Third-quarter productivity growth was revised downward to 1.5% from 2.7%, also below the consensus estimate. Wal-Mart (WMT) reported a 4.3% rise in same-store sales for November and forecast a 4% to 6% increase in December. Shares of the retail giant lost 95 cents, or 1.7%, at $55.62. Gap (GPS) reported a 25% decline in same-store sales for November and warned that if current trends continue, fourth-quarter earnings will be considerably worse than the loss of 6 cents posted in the third quarter. Wall Street analysts were expecting the company to earn 8 cents a share. Shares of the apparel retailer reversed course after being under pressure this morning, and closed up 62 cents, or 4.6%, at $14.20. AnnTaylor (ANN - Get Report) said it remains comfortable with its fourth-quarter earnings forecast of 25 cents to 30 cents a share. The apparel retailer said comparable-store sales rose 0.8% in November. The stock rose $1.14, or 3.7%, to $31.96. RadioShack (RSH) reaffirmed its fourth-quarter earnings outlook, saying it remains comfortable with its earnings estimate of 66 cents a share, despite reporting a 3% decrease in same-store sales in November. That forecast is a penny above the current consensus estimate carried by First Call. Shares of the consumer electronics retailer climbed $1.71, or 6.3%, to $28.80. Millennium Pharmaceuticals (MLNM) announced Thursday that it will acquire Cor Therapeutics (CORR - Get Report) in all-stock deal. Millennium said it would exchange 0.9873 shares for each Cor share. Millennium fell $5.89, or 16.6%, to $29.56. Cor jumped 42.9% to $28.20. Meanwhile, reports are indicating that Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is prepared to hand over Kandahar, the group's last main stronghold in Afghanistan. Overnight, U.S. warplanes bombarded targets in and around the city, killing a large number of enemy troops, according to U.S. officials. Around 4 p.m. EST, the 10-year Treasury was losing 27/32 to 99 31/32, yielding 5.00%.