Updated from 1:48 p.m. EDTU.S. stocks were off their lows but still lurking on the downside Thursday afternoon, as the string of erratic sessions that has become routine for the major averages continued. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 133 points to 8386, and the S&P 500 was losing 23 points to 874. The Nasdaq was dropping 57 points to 1559. The Dow started slow, then gathered steam and rose more than 200 points before retreating. On Wednesday, stocks sold off steadily as many companies, citing an impending economic downturn, cautioned investors not to expect much in coming months. The new day's economic data lent support to U.S. companies' cautious prognostications. The Department of Labor's jobless numbers for the week ended Oct. 18 unexpectedly rose by 15,000 to 478,000. Economists were expecting 468,000 unemployment claims for the week. In addition, home foreclosures were up 71% year over year to 766,000 for the third quarter as home prices declined, according to RealtyTrac. Separately, the Federal Housing and Finance Agency said its home price index slipped 0.6% from July to August and fell 5.9% year over year. As the economic outlook worsened, the government looked ready to aid homeowners. The Bush administration is mulling a $40 billion program to prevent foreclosures, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. head Sheila Bair said that her agency and the Treasury were working in concert to forestall foreclosures. The initiative would be undertaken by power granted the Treasury under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, which authorized a $700 billion package to alleviate the financial crisis.