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Stocks Finish Slightly Off Before Jobs Report

Stocks in New York closed slightly lower Thursday, ahead of the most important economic news of the week. Gregg Greenberg breaks it down on The Real Story.

(Updated with closing stock prices)

NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) -- Stocks edged lower, pulling the

S&P 500

back below 1000 as Wall Street took a wait-and-see approach to Friday's unemployment report, brushing off better-than-expected weekly jobless claims and mixed retail sales.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

closed down 24.71 points, or 0.3%, at 9256.26, while the S&P 500 slid 5.64 points, or 0.6%, to 997.08. The

Nasdaq Composite

edged down 19.89 points, or 1%, to 1973.16.

Stocks initially opened higher after weekly jobless claims came in below expectations. There were 550,000 new claims last week, down from 588,000 the week prior and not as bad as the expected 580,000.

But the most anticipated set of data of the week, the unemployment report for July, is due out Friday, and a report earlier in the week showed greater-than-expected job losses in the private sector in July. Thus, Wall Street is "taking a wait and see approach," said Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist at Schaeffer's Investment Research.

"You've had a huge rally off the bottom, and you're now starting to see a little bit of hesitation until the fundamentals justify the event," says Doug Roberts, chief investment strategist at ChannelCapitalResearch.com. "People are hesitant to really stretch their neck out in the market ahead of the

unemployment report given the incredible run we've had and relatively high valuation in the market."

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Click below to hear my entire conversation with Roberts, including how Friday's jobs report could impact the market and how to position after that.

Investors were also tuned in to retailers' sales for July on Thursday, searching for more clues to the pace of economic recovery. Among the early reporters,

Costco

(COST) - Get Costco Wholesale Corporation Report

said its same-store sales fell 7%, or 1% excluding gasoline and foreign exchange. Analysts had expected a decline of 6.7%, and 1.9% factoring out gasoline. Shares edged down 0.6% to $48.75.

"The real question becomes what's going to happen with the consumer: Is he going to still keep everything locked up, or is he going to begin spending again," asks Roberts. "Sometimes that 's a bit of a stretch given the high level of unemployment."

One company that's happy to see responsible consumers,

American Express

(AXP) - Get American Express Company Report

, was one of the best performers on the Dow with a 3.1% increase after Citi upgraded the stock to buy a day after the credit card company reported fewer defaults in July.

Meanwhile,

AIG

(AIG) - Get American International Group, Inc. Report

,

Fannie Mae

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and

Freddie Mac

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continued to create chatter -- up 2.4%, 6.8%, and 5%, respectively. A

variety of factors

were rumored to be at play, from short selling to restructurings to earnings speculation.

Stocks overseas rose with some help from better-than-expected bank and insurer earnings. In Europe, Frankfurt's DAX and London's FTSE 100 advanced 0.3% and 0.9%, respectively. In Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng tacked on 2%, while Japan's Nikkei added 1.3%.

Tech bellwether

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Cisco Systems, Inc. Report

reported its quarterly results after the close of trading on Wednesday, reporting a declining profit that met estimates. However, Cisco CEO John Chambers said he saw positive economic signs during the quarter. Shares edged up 0.6% to $22.31.

As for commodities, crude oil futures fell 3 cents, to $71.94 a barrel, a day after a data showed a larger than expected build in stockpiles.

Longer-dated Treasuries were mixed. The 10-year was down 4/32 to yield 3.76%, while the 30-year gained 2/32, yielding 4.54%.

-- Reported by Elizabeth Trotta in New York

.