Stocks Struggle for Direction on Jobs, Retail Data

Stocks in New York were trading in choppy fashion as investors absorb the latest round of economic and retail data and as the automakers continued to search for ways to placate Congress.
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Updated from 9:42 a.m. EST

After a downside open, stocks on Wall Street were experiencing spiky trading Thursday, as a slew of big-name companies announced layoffs and European central banks cut interest rates to mitigate a deepening recession abroad.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

was falling 46 points to 8545, and the

S&P 500

was down 5.5 points to 865. The

Nasdaq

slipped 8.4 points to 1484.

Layoffs and salary reductions were dominating the day's early headlines. Executives at

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

, along with director and senior adviser Robert Rubin, were willing to go without bonuses this year, according to a report by the

Financial Times

.

Swiss bank

Credit Suisse

(CS) - Get Report

announced plans to cut 5,300 jobs and said it expects to report a $2.5 billion fourth-quarter loss.

In other financial-sector news,

The Wall Street Journal

reported that credit card company

Capital One

(COF) - Get Report

intends to buy Chevy Chase Bank for $520 million in a cash-and-stock deal.

The bout of layoffs and tempered guidance was not confined to the financials. Telecom company

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

announced workforce reductions of 12,000, or about 4% of its employees, while

DuPont

(DD) - Get Report

set plans to cut 2,500 workers.

"I'm not surprised," said Fred Dickson, chief market analyst at DA Davidson. "Given the depth of the recession, we're just going to see more of the same over the next three to six months." He also said that AT&T's planned layoffs, at 4%, weren't shockingly large, however. "In a given year, that may be close to a normal turnover amount anyway."

Dickson also said that the layoff announcements are directing investor attention to employment ahead of tomorrow's November nonfarm payrolls data. He said that the market appears to be taking the layoffs in stride, as it avoided a large gap down at the open.

Software firm

Adobe Systems

(ADBE) - Get Report

reported preliminary fourth-quarter results that were ahead of expectations, but also announced plans for an 8% reduction in headcount.

Media concern

Viacom

(VIA) - Get Report

also announced job cuts and said it would put a raise freeze on some senior-level positions.

In the pharmaceutical space,

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

reaffirmed its 2008 earnings projections but projected 2009 results would fall short of analysts' current estimates.

Homebuilder

Toll Brothers

(TOL) - Get Report

said its fourth-quarter loss narrowed year over year and said its revenue in the coming year would fall substantially from current levels.

In one bright spot, retail giant

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

announced its same-store sales rose 3.4% in November.

Across the board, however, the

November same-store sales

picture was less encouraging.

Costco

(COST) - Get Report

,

Limited

(LTD)

and

Pacific Sunwear

(PSUN)

were among companies to announce slackening sales.

The automakers were again in focus on Thursday. Earlier in the week,

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

,

Ford

(F) - Get Report

and

Chrysler

headed to Capitol Hill to seek government help as they navigate a precarious market climate.

Bloomberg

reported that management at GM and Chrysler were contemplating a prearranged bankruptcy as a means to get government funds.

Turning to economic data, the Labor Department said jobless claims for the week ended Nov. 29 fell 21,000 to 509,000. The result was better than economists' forecast of 540,000 claims for the week. Separately, the Census Bureau's October read on factory orders showed a 5.1% decline, a larger drop than the 4% consensus estimate.

As the financial crisis was felt overseas, the Bank of England cut its key interest rate by one percentage point to 2%, and the

European Central Bank

reduced its rate to 2.5% from 3.25%. France also announced a $33 billion economic stimulus plan.

Looking at commodities, crude oil was down 27 cents to $46.52 a barrel. Gold was gaining $2.50 to $773 an ounce.

Longer-dated U.S. Treasury securities were rising in price. The 10-year note was up 11/32, yielding 2.62%, and the 30-year was adding 26/32 to yield 3.13%. The dollar was climbing vs. the pound but softening against the yen and euro.

Abroad, European exchanges, including the FTSE in London and the DAX in Frankfurt, were trading lower. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei and Hong Kong's Hang Seng finished on the downside.