Stocks stayed close to the flatline on Thursday as Wall Street sat in wait of the release of the monthly U.S. jobs report on Friday.
The S&P 500 was up 0.05%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 0.07%, and the Nasdaq dropped 0.17%.
The jobs report for September, a snapshot of the labor market, has gained outsized significance for what it might mean for the Federal Reserve come December. Economists anticipate roughly 170,000 jobs to have been added to the U.S. economy in September, strong enough to signal a robust labor market. The unemployment rate is expected to remain unchanged at 4.9%.
"We see few surprises that would derail the Fed's assessment of the labor market," said BNP Paribas analysts. "We expect the September report to confirm the Fed's view that the labor market is on solid footing and maintain our base-case scenario of a December rate hike."
A rate hike in December currently has a 55% likelihood, according to CME Group fed funds futures. Chances of a year-end hike increased after the Federal Open Market Committee punted on a September rise and said the case for a hike has strengthened.
The number of new claims for unemployment benefits declined 5,000 to 249,000 in the week ended Oct. 1. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined 2,500 to 253,500, hitting its lowest level since 1973.
"With continuing claims ... declining at a rapid rate, these data imply that workers who are losing their jobs are likely finding new ones," said Rob Martin, U.S. economist at Barclays. "We expect this resumption in strength to manifest in improvement in employment growth over the remainder of this year at least relative to the doldrums we saw in the first half of 2016."
Crude oil prices topped $50 a barrel on Thursday on hopes Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries could reduce output even further. Algerian energy minister Nouredine Bouterfa said on Thursday that OPEC could cut production by another 1% when they next meet in November. OPEC agreed in September to cut production by roughly 700,000 barrels per day.
Oil rallied a day earlier, jumping to a three-month high. Crude rallied after a weekly reading saw a fifth week of declines, bringing relief over domestic supply glut worries.
West Texas Intermediate crude was up 1.34% to $50.50 a barrel on Thursday, closing above $50 for the first time since early June.
Twitter(TWTR) - Get Report tumbled 20% on reports Alphabet's(GOOGL) - Get Report Google and Walt Disney(DIS) - Get Report would not make a bid for the social network. The companies, previously interested in Twitter, pulled out of the bidding process, according to Recode. The company is reportedly taking bids this week with Salesforce.com(CRM) - Get Report a frontrunner for an acquisition.
Qualcomm(QCOM) - Get Report and NXP Semiconductors(NXPI) - Get Report rose slightly on speculation that deal negotiations had progressed. NXP had rocketed higher in late September after The Wall Street Journal reported Qualcomm's interest in an acquisition.
Insurance companies including Allstate(ALL) - Get Report , Loews(L) - Get Report and Progressive(PGR) - Get Report were on watch as Hurricane Matthew approached the southern East Coast of the U.S. The hurricane has strengthened to a category 4 storm as it approaches the coast late Thursday through to Friday night, the National Hurricane Center confirmed.
Walmart(WMT) - Get Report fell 3% on Thursday after affirming fiscal 2017 earnings guidance and projecting "relatively flat" profit growth in fiscal 2018. The world's largest retailer anticipates full-year profit no higher than $4.35 a share, compared to consensus of $4.34. The company also expects to open 130 U.S. stores in fiscal 2017, slowing to 55 stores in 2018.
Yum! Brands(YUM) - Get Report dropped 1.3% after third-quarter profit and sales fell short of analysts' estimates. The owner of KFC and Taco Bell earned an adjusted $1.09 a share, a penny below estimates, while revenue of $3.32 billion came in short of $3.49 billion consensus.
The company also boosted its full-year profit estimates ahead of a planned spinoff of its China operations. Core operating is expected to climb 15%, up from a previous estimate of 14%.
Alynylam Pharmaceuticals(ALNY) - Get Report slumped 48% after announcing plans to stop development of its revusiran drug. Revusiran was being developed to treat hereditary amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy, a rare disease that can cause heart failure. A late-stage study had found the death rate of patients treated with the drug was higher than those taking a placebo.
Tesla(TSLA) - Get Report fell 3.5% after Goldman Sachs downgraded its stock to neutral from buy. Its price target was also cut to $185 a share from $240. Analysts said its proposed takeover of SolarCity adds risk and leaves little room for potential production delays.