NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Major U.S. stock markets finished flat after trading in a holding pattern throughout Thursday as investors await the government's nonfarm payrolls report for September on Friday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished sideways at 16,801.05. The S&P 500  was unchanged at 1,946.17. The Nasdaq was up just 0.18% to 4,430.19.

The Russell 2000  of small-cap stocks rallied 1.01%, turning around after reaching oversold conditions and climbing its way out of correction territory.   

If recent history repeats itself, Friday could bring a smaller nonfarm payroll gain relative to trend, according to Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank. In each of the last two years, the gain in September nonfarm payrolls has been less than the trailing year-to-date monthly average, the economist wrote in a client note. In 2012, monthly job gains averaged 179,000 through August, but September employment was up 161,000. In 2013, job gains averaged 197,000, but September employment was up just 164,000. Currently, average monthly payroll growth has been running at 215,000.

LaVorgna said the September weakness may be due to seasonal issues around the return of public sector teachers. Another factor could be the four-week length between the employment survey periods in 2012 and 2013, compared to five weeks in 2010 and 2011.

"The good news, though, is that October and November hiring should be robust," he added. In both 2012 and 2013, soft September hiring relative to the year-to-date trend was reversed in the ensuing months.

Stocks stayed close to the flat line throughout Thursday, the lackluster action a function of Wednesday's selloff and a lack of economic data surprises.

With the S&P now about 3.7% removed from its bull market peak notched eight days ago, Ari Wald, the head of technical analysis at Oppenheimer, said the market is now about half way to a buyable low. Of the several bottoming indicators that he's tracking, Wald is closely monitoring a VIX near 20 as a signal to accumulate stock. The current reading is about 16.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi on Thursday provided little indication of how big a boost to liquidity the global financial markets might see from the ECB. Draghi said during Thursday's post-meeting press conference that the bank has laid out the main details of its asset-backed securities and covered bonds purchase programs, but in his opening statement didn't divulge any detail on how aggressive the measures would be. He said he expects these to be two-year programs, with the asset-backed securities purchases starting in the fourth quarter and the buying of covered bonds to begin in mid-October. He once again reinforced the ECB's openness to additional stimulus measures and unconventional tools if needed.

The ECB announced earlier Thursday that it was keeping its key refinancing rate at a record low 0.05%.

U.S. factory orders fell 10.1% in August, their largest drop on record. Economists were expecting a 9.3% decline. 

Jobless claims fell by 8,000 to 287,000 last week, bringing the four-week moving average down to 294,750, the Labor Department reported. Claims of 297,000 were expected. 

In top company headlines, Pacific Investment Management Co. said investors withdrew a record $23.5 billion from its flagship Pimco Total Return Fund last month, with most of the withdrawals taking place last Friday, the day Bill Gross resigned from the firm and announced he was joining Janus (JNS) .

Wayfair (W) jumped over 30% in its trading debut on Thursday, bringing the value of the online furniture retailer to more than $3 billion.

AutoNation (AN) popped 6.05% after the auto dealership company reported a 10% annual jump in the third-quarter new-vehicle sales and after Warren Buffett spoke highly of the long-term value of auto dealership businesses. Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) on Thursday announced that it agreed to acquire Van Tuyl Group, the fifth largest auto dealership company in the U.S.

GoPro (GPRO) fell 6.91% after founders of the extreme camera maker were able to break a lockup period for selling shares of the company. The proceeds on about 5.82 million shares of the company will go towards establishing a charity.

Fannie Mae (FNMA) tumbled 11.18% and Freddie Mac (FMCC) lost 10.3%, extending a selloff after a federal judge on Tuesday ruled against investors who are trying to collect billions of dollars in profits of government-chartered mortgage companies.

Boeing (BA)  fell 0.4% even after the aerospace giant said it's planning to boost production of its flagship narrow body aircraft, the 737, to 52 a month in 2018 in response to strong market demand. "Boeing is at a disadvantage in terms of next generation narrow body timing because Airbus is doing a great job with the A320neo," said Richard Aboulafia, aerospace consultant for Teal Group.

Twitter (TWTR) added 3.58%. The social-media hub is investing $10 million in MIT's new Laboratory for Social Machines that will be geared towards deepening the understanding of how information spreads on Twitter.

Constellation Brands (STZ) slipped 1.01% after posting lower-than-expected quarterly results and slashing its full year free cash flow guidance given its brewery expansion plans in Nava, Mexico and glass container production partnership with Owens-Illinois (OI) .

Soda giants Coca-Cola (KO) and PepsiCo (PEP) both edged slightly lower as the two start to compete on green stevia soft drinks for the more health-conscious consumer. Coca-Cola will be expanding its Coca-Cola Life offering to the entire U.S. by November, while Pepsi will be introducing Pepsi True through Amazon (AMZN) by mid-October.

Sears (SHLD) popped 7.47% after saying it expects to generate up to $380 million in proceeds by early November from the sale of its interest in Sears Canada.

The United States Oil Fund (USO) was flat in after-hours trading after U.S. light sweet crude oil futures dropped below $90 a barrel for the first time since April 24, 2013, on concerns of oversupply.

-- By Andrea Tse in New York

Follow @AndreaTTse