Stocks struggled to stay positive by mid-afternoon Thursday even as a weaker U.S. dollar boosted the materials sector.
The S&P 500 was down 0.24%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.04%, and the Nasdaq fell 0.43%.
The U.S. dollar weakened against a basket of international currencies following worse-than-expected data on the domestic economy. The weaker currency made U.S.-made products cheaper for international buyers, a prospect that boosted materials stocks.
In the basic materials sector, Alcoa (AA - Get Report) , Monsanto (MON) , Freeport-McMoRan (FCX - Get Report) and Newmont Mining Corp. (NEM - Get Report) jumped, while the Materials Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLB - Get Report) climbed 2.2%.
A weaker greenback temporarily boosted commodities prices, though its effect faded by the middle of the session. Still, crude oil prices were holding steady near the $32-level.
"After triggering a sharp rally on Wednesday, a slumping US dollar and speculative talk of an emergency producer meeting continue to hold the crude complex relatively steady in the face of global oversupply," said T. Austin Sapp, commodity analyst at Schneider Electric. "Six OPEC states (Iran, Algeria, Nigeria, Ecuador, Iran, and Venezuela) and two non-OPEC states (Russia and Oman) have asserted that they are prepared to attend an emergency meeting among producers should one be called in the near-term."
U.S. factory orders declined in December for the fourth time in five months. Orders fell nearly 2.9%, its steepest decline in roughly a year, as activity slowed in the face of weakness from the energy sector and a stronger dollar.
New claims for unemployment benefits rose 8,000 to 285,000 in the week ended Jan. 30, coming in above forecasts of 280,000. Though higher, initial jobless claims in the U.S. remain at multi-year lows, signaling that the labor market continues to tighten.
"Some of January's disappointments in claims may have been attributed to giveback following elevated levels of hiring of temporary workers over the holidays," said BNP Paribas' fixed-income economics analyst Derek Lindsey. "In all, the trend remains at rather low historical levels, but we will continue to monitor gains for any solid turnaround in the data."
The official read on U.S. nonfarm payrolls will be released Friday morning. Economists expect 192,000 jobs to have been added to the U.S. economy and the unemployment rate to hold steady at 5%.
CBS (CBS - Get Report) shares fell 1% after long-time chairman Sumner Redstone resigned with CEO Leslie Moonves named his successor. Redstone also stepped down from his role as chairman of Viacom (VIA.B) , a company he founded. CEO Phillipe Dauman has been named as his replacement. Redstone's mental faculties have been in question with some investors calling for new leadership recently.
A massive wave of earnings reports from industry giants including Credit Suisse (CS - Get Report) and ConocoPhillips (COP - Get Report) kept trading active. So far, 59% of S&P 500 companies have reported with 69% reporting earnings above estimates. Average earnings have fallen 4.2%. Excluding energy, earnings have increased 2%.
ConocoPhillips fell 9% after further reducing its full-year capital expenditure plans and cutting its quarterly dividend as the oil company continues to struggle in the face of low oil prices. The company reduced its quarterly dividend to 25 cents a share from 74 cents.
Credit Suisse tumbled 11% after announcing plans to cut roughly 4,000 jobs to reduce costs. The financial institution also announced a massive pretax loss in the fourth quarter. It reported a pretax quarterly loss of 6.4 billion, including a 3.8-billion-franc impairment charge linked to its acquisition of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette investment bank in 2000.
GoPro (GPRO - Get Report) slumped after reporting a net loss of 8 cents a share, compared to estimates of a break-even quarter. The action camera maker also warned it expects current-quarter sales no higher than $180 million, well below estimates of $291 million. GoPro also named Brian McGee as its new chief financial officer, effective March 11.
AstraZeneca (AZN - Get Report) fell after warning of lower earnings this fiscal year on higher research and development costs. The drugmaker also said weaker profit forecasts were tied to softer demand for Crestor, its cholestrol treatment, as its patent expires this year.
Cisco Systems (CSCO - Get Report) was 1% higher after reaching a deal to buy Jasper Technologies for $1.4 billion in cash. Cisco said privately held Jasper has developed the industry's leading platform for the "Internet of Things" that encompasses a growing range of connected devices, appliances and machines.
Cisco is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS charitable trust portfolio.
"We like the deal from a strategic standpoint, as it would further enhance Cisco's capabilities in the rapidly-growing area of IoT services," wrote Cramer and Jack Mohr, research director of Action Alerts PLUS. "This deal allows Cisco to expand its IoT offerings to its mobile ecosystem as Jasper's portfolio is focused on connecting mobile devices or platforms ... through wireless networks."
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