Stocks were slightly lower by mid-afternoon Thursday in an uncertain day of trading that could put an end to a three-day rally.
The S&P 500 fell 0.28%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.17%, and the Nasdaq slid 0.85%.
Crude oil erased earlier gains after weekly inventories showed an increase of 2.1 million barrels last week. Analysts had expected the Energy Information Administration data to show a decline of 1.4 million barrels.
Commodities trading also was active on reports Saudi Arabia is "not prepared" to limit oil production, according to AFP. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries attempted this week to come to an agreement on a production freeze to stabilize oil prices. West Texas Intermediate crude oil climbed 1% to $30.96 a barrel, falling below $31.
Gold prices ended higher as investors favored safe-haven assets over riskier equities. Gold for April delivery closed 1.2% higher at $1,226.30 an ounce.
Stocks secured their first three-day winning streak of the year on Wednesday as concerns over oil, the U.S. economy and the Federal Reserve's rate-hike plans were all addressed in turn. The S&P 500 broke out of correction territory and is now down less than 10% from its 52-week high.
The labor market continued to show its strength on Thursday as weekly jobless claims fell to their lowest level since November. The number of new claims for unemployment benefits fell 7,000 to 262,000 in the past week. The four-week jobless claims average, a read that smooths out week-to-week fluctuations, slid 8,000 to 273,250.
Economic activity in the Philadelphia region improved in February, though remained in contraction. The Philadelphia Fed Index rose to negative 2.8 this month from a reading of negative 3.5 in January. New orders and the employment index were weaker.