Stocks Sit Tight Ahead of Jobs Report

Stocks finished mildly lower Thursday after initial weekly jobless claims rose by 19,000 to 479,000. Gregg Greenberg has The Real Story.
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NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) -- Stocks finished marginally to the downside Thursday after an unexpected increase in initial weekly jobless claims neutralized promising jobs data released earlier in the week, forcing investors to hold steady ahead of

Friday's highly anticipated employment report

.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

fell 5 points, or 0.1%, to 10,675. The

S&P 500

shed 1 point, or 0.1%, to 1126, and the

Nasdaq

finished 11 points lower, or 0.5%, at 2293.

>>Washington Isn't Helping on Jobs: Opinion

On Wednesday, investors cheered news that the

private sector added 42,000 payrolls in July, according to

Automatic Data Processing's

(ADP) - Get Report

report, but any optimism regarding Friday's government jobs report dwindled after the Labor Department reported an unexpected spike in workers filing for

unemployment benefits.

"Whatever comes out tomorrow will have to contradict what we saw today," said Mike Shea, managing partner at Direct Access Partners, on what it will take for investors to regain some confidence. "We've been trading in a really narrow range, and that's what we're looking at today. The fact is there's no certainty in the number. If there is a pattern emerging, it's that gains or declines are incremental. We've had several months' worth of the same message, which is, more or less, that job growth will be a longer-term prospect."

The Labor Department releases its much-anticipated July nonfarm payrolls report on Friday at 8:30 a.m. ET. Economists are anticipating a decline of 87,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate is expected to rise to 9.6%, from 9.5%, previously, according to Briefing.com.

Earlier on Thursday, the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund deemed

Greece's economic overhaul an overall success, pointing to reforms that have been enacted ahead of schedule -- but they also warned that several challenges remain. The largest hurdle, according to the assessment, will be Greece regaining access to international capital markets.

Overseas, Hong Kong's Hang Seng climbed 0.01% while Japan's Nikkei gained 1.7%. The FTSE in London slipped 0.4%, while the DAX in Frankfurt added 0.04%.

>>The Economy

>>Company News

>>Commodities and the Dollar

>>Treasuries

The Economy

Initial weekly jobless claims unexpectedly rose by 19,000, to 479,000, from last week's level of 460,000. Economists had been expecting the level to dip to 455,000 from the prior week's initially reported claims of 457,000.

The Energy Information Administration said natural gas storage levels added 29 billion cubic feet in the week ended July 30, which was well below the expected injection range of 32 billion cubic feet to 36 billion cubic feet that analysts polled by Platts had forecast.

>>Overview

>>Company News

>>Commodities and the Dollar

>>Treasuries

Company News

After the bell,

Kraft Foods

(KFT)

said it earned 60 cents a share during the second quarter, which topped the projection for 52 cents a share, according to Briefing.com. But sales were a little lighter-than-expected at $12.25 billion.

Conglomerates saw the best gains with shares of

Caterpillar

(CAT) - Get Report

,

United Tech

and

Alcoa

(AA) - Get Report

topped the Dow.

Meanwhile, the biggest laggards included

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

,

Pfizer

(PFE) - Get Report

and

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

.

General Motors'

chief executive Ed Whitacre cautioned against anticipating an initial public offering for GM in the near-term because he still doesn't know when or how it will happen, according to a

Wall Street Journal

report.

Shares of

Beazer Homes USA

(BZH) - Get Report

lost 3.1% after the homebuilder recorded a wider-than-expected loss in the third quarter, blaming the expiration of federal tax incentives for homebuyers for a slump in demand. The

SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF

(XHB) - Get Report

also weakened, trading 0.9% lower at $14.88.

Cigna

(CI) - Get Report

soared past estimates for earnings of $1.01 a share on sales of $5.26 billion with a second-quarter profit of $1.38 a share and sales of $5.35 billion. For the year, Cigna sees earnings of $4.10 to $4.40 a share, compared with analysts' expectations for a profit of $4.38 a share.

Viacom

(VIA) - Get Report

said lower expenses helped earnings gain more than 50% as the entertainment content company reported a profit from continuing operations that beat analysts' estimates by 2 cents, at 68 cents a share. Second-quarter sales, however, were largely flat at $3.3 billion.

Church & Dwight

(CHD) - Get Report

, the company behind household brands like Arm & Hammer and OxiClean, topped profit expectations with earnings of $1.03 a share and reiterated its year-end guidance for earnings in a range of $3.93 to $4 a share.

In other

earnings news,

Cardinal Health

(CAH) - Get Report

topped profit expectations by a penny with adjusted earnings of 50 cents a share,

DirecTV

(DTV)

met forecasts with an adjusted profit of 60 cents a share,

Time Warner Cable

(TWC)

exceeded expectations by 4 cents with a quarterly gain of 97 cents a share, and

Huntsman

(HUN) - Get Report

soared past estimates with earnings of 29 cents a share. Analysts had been expecting a quarterly profit of 8 cents a share.

The

Retail HOLDRs ETF

(RTH) - Get Report

gained 0.4% as

July same-store sales reports showed mixed results but confirmed that consumers are willing to buy if both the product and price are right. Among the month's top performers were

Limited Brands

(LTD)

and

Zumiez

(ZUMZ) - Get Report

, which reported same-store sales increases of 12% and 9.4%, respectively.

Barclays

(BCS) - Get Report

recorded a 29% jump in net profits, to 2.4 billion pounds ($3.9 billion) in the first half of the year and said revenue grew 8% to 16.6 billion pounds. The British bank said investment banking gains tripled while provisions for bad loans fell by a third.

Mining company

Rio Tinto

(RTP) - Get Report

said profits more than tripled in the first half on stronger commodity prices and improved iron ore demand from China.

>>Overview

>>The Economy

>>Commodities and the Dollar

>>Treasuries

Commodities and the Dollar

Following the EIA report, the September natural gas contract settled 14 cents lower at $4.60 per million British thermal units. Crude oil for September delivery, meanwhile, finished lower by 46 cents, at $82.01 a barrel.

Elsewhere in commodity markets, the December

gold contract traded $3.40 higher to settle at $1,199.30 an ounce.

The dollar was trading lower against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index down by 0.2%.

>>Overview

>>The Economy

>>Company News

>>Treasuries

Treasuries

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was up by 14/32, diluting the yield to 2.907%.

The two-year note was up by 3/32, weakening the yield to 0.530%. The 30-year bond was up by 16/32, decreasing the yield to 4.058%.

--Written by Melinda Peer and Sung Moss in New York

.

>>Overview

>>The Economy

>>Company News

>>Commodities and the Dollar

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.