NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The major U.S. equity averages finished in the red again on Thursday as a halfhearted rally late in the session fell short.

A better than expected initial jobless claims report was viewed with skepticism as investors couldn't shake a malaise fueled by fading hopes for additional stimulus from the world's central banks and a weak start to second-quarter reporting season.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 31 points, or 0.25%, to close at 12,573. The blue-chip index, which ranged from 12,492 to 12,630 on the day, has now fallen in six straight sessions.

Breadth within the Dow was negative with 22 of the 30 components moving lower with tech names Cisco ( CSCO), Intel ( INTC) and Microsoft ( MSFT) seeing the biggest declines.

Outsized gains for Merck ( MRK) and Procter & Gamble ( PG) countered the broad weakness though. Merck shares rose more than 4% on favorable news about an osteoporosis drug it's developing, while P&G added more than 3.5% following reports that Bill Ackman's Pershing Square investment vehicle is building a stake in the consumer products giant.

Shares of JPMorgan Chase ( JPM), which is reporting its quarterly results before Friday's opening bell, finished down 1.6%. The bank is expected to provide details about its disastrous trading loss on a credit derivatives hedge tomorrow with investors anxious to hear just how big the company's liability still is.

The S&P 500 fell nearly 7 points, or 0.50%, at 1335. Unlike the Dow, the benchmark index never quite made it into positive territory.

The Nasdaq saw the heaviest selling with the tech-heavy index losing 22 points, or 0.75%, at 2866.

The weakest sectors in the broad market were financials, technology and consumer cyclicals. Health care and capital goods were pockets of strength. Breadth was negative with decliners outpacing advancers by a 2-to-1 ratio on the New York Stock Exchange and a 1.5-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

Before the opening bell, the Labor Department said before the bell that initial jobless claims for the week ended July 7 fell to 350,000, the lowest level seen since March 2008 and a decrease of 26,000 from the upwardly revised 376,000 figure from the preceding week. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters had forecast a decline to 372,000.

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