NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Major US markets closed lower Thursday amid a spate of lackluster corporate earnings. Investors were scrutinizing fourth-quarter results from Citigroup (C) and Goldman Sachs (GS), and Best Buy's (BBY) holiday same-store sales. Jobless claims and consumer price index reports did little to change expectations of a continuation of the Federal Reserve's plan to taper stimulus at a $10 billion monthly pace and a prolonged period of a Fed funds rate at record lows.
- The S&P 500 finished off 0.13% to 1,845.90 while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was 0.39% lower at 16,417.01. The Nasdaq was 0.09% higher at 4,218.69.
- Outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke about challenges facing central banks in Washington, noting he was not ready to conclude that "very low interest rates are going to be a permanent condition". Bernanke said the Fed was extremely sensitive to financial stability risks. San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams suggested the Fed might have to raise its inflation target above 2% to give it more room to stabilize the economy and inflation.
- Initial jobless claims fell 2,000 to a lower-than-expected 326,000 for the week ended Jan. 11. The December consumer price index increased in line with forecasts by 1.5% year over year, with the core up 1.7%. Inflation numbers have been coming in below the Federal Reserve's long-term, 2% inflation target, encouraging views that the Federal funds rate could remain at near zero through 2015.
- The Philadelphia Fed's Business Outlook Survey for January hit 9.7, well above consensus for a reading of 8.7. The National Association of Home Builders' housing market index for January saw homebuilders lose a little confidence in the housing market - with the reading dipping to 56, down from December's reading of 57.
- Best Buy (BBY) closed down 28.61% to $26.82 after reporting a U.S. holiday period same-store sales decline of 0.9% vs. expectations for an increase. Citigroup (C) finished down 4.35% to $52.60 after missing fourth-quarter estimates by a wide margin. Goldman Sachs (GS) was off 2.00% to $175.12 after a mediocre fourth-quarter earnings beat. Intel (INTC) was down 0.49% to $26.56. The chipmaker is forecast to post fourth-quarter earnings of 52 cents a share on revenue of $13.72 billion after the closing bell.
- S&P Capital IQ's chief equity strategist Sam Stovall said he thinks the S&P 500 will continue to power to new all-time highs, supported by economic reports. "Stocks remain attractive relative to bonds, in our view," he said. The basis-point spread between the trailing S&P 500 EPS yield and the 10-year Treasury remains more than one standard deviation above its mean during the past quarter century, according to Stovall. The S&P 500 has traditionally recorded above-average, year-ahead price increases whenever its dividend yield was less than one percentage point below the yield on the 10-year note, according to the S&P strategist.
-- Written by Jane Searle in New York.