U.S. stocks were mixed on Thursday, as oil prices fell after posting gains for the past three days.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.09%, the S&P 500 gained 0.16%, and the Nasdaq fell 0.05%.
Oil prices have been volatile Thursday. West Texas Intermediate crude oil settled at $34.57 a barrel. Brent, the international price for oil, gained 0.24% to $37.02 a barrel. Investors remained worried about oversupply issues in global commodities markets.
Dallas Federal Reserve President Robert Kaplan stressed in a speech Thursday the importance of patience when it comes to the timing of the next interest rate hike. Kaplan holds an alternate vote in the Federal Open Market Committee.
The ISM Nonmanufacturing Index, an important gauge of the services sector, came in at 53.4 for February; analysts had expected a reading of 53.1. The index stood at 53.5 in January. Factory orders for January rose 1.6% but came in below estimates of 2%.
"The downturn in energy production and softness in manufacturing are drags, but overall the U.S. economy remains in good shape," said PNC economists in a note on Thursday.
Meanwhile, weekly jobless claims in the U.S. jumped by 6,000 to 278,000, while economists expected 271,000.
Fourth-quarter productivity fell 2.2%, while economists forecast a 3.2% drop.
Wall Street expects the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday to report that 190,000 jobs were added to U.S. payrolls in February. Average hourly wages were expected to gain 0.2%.
On Wednesday, ADP reported 214,000 jobs were created in the private sector in February. The ADP report tends to foreshadow Friday's report from the government.
Friday's jobs report is the last reading on the labor market before the Federal Reserve's March meeting this month. The central bank hiked short-term interest rates back in December for the first time in nearly a decade. Given the spat of markets volatility since the start of the year, the markets are only pricing in a 2% chance of a second rate hike in March.
"I think the labor picture is fairly stellar in the U.S., but I think global conditions might very well prevent the Federal Reserve from doing anything too soon to prevent any sort of upheaval or volatility in the markets that we've come so used to," said Brenda Kelly, head analyst at London Capital Group, in an interview with TheStreet TV.
Overseas, China's Shanghai Composite Index added 0.35% and Japan's Nikkei gained 1.3%.
Aubrey McClendon, the deposed CEO of troubled oil and gas explorer Chesapeake Energy ( CHK) , died in a car accident Wednesday afternoon a day after being indicted by a federal grand jury for bid rigging on oil and gas leases. McClendon was 56 years old. Shares were lower by 1.8%.
Herbalife (HLF) shares sunk 6.6% after the company revealed that numbers on "active new members" were overstated in the past two quarters.
Costco Wholesale (COST) reported fiscal second-quarter earnings of $1.24 a share, missing Wall Street estimates of $1.28. Revenue stood at $28.17 billion, 2.6% higher than the same time last year, but short of the $28.42 Wall Street was looking for. Overhead expenses soared 6% year over year. Shares dropped roughly 0.7%.
Costco is a holding of Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS portfolio.
"We would advise subscribers to exercise patience and avoid trading shares barring extreme weakness -- we have consistently stated that we would consider adding to our position in the low $140s," wrote Cramer and Jack Mohr, director of research at Action Alerts PLUS. " For long- term investors, we continue to believe Costco's unique, membership- based business model, wide and sustainable competitive moat, strong return on capital, healthy balance sheet ($11 cash per share) and consistent execution all contribute to its scarcity value in retail -- and associated premium valuation."
Teen clothing retailer American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) reported fourth-quarter profit of 42 cents a share, matching analysts' forecasts. Revenue of $1.11 billion fell short of the $1.12 billion Wall Street was looking for. Shares fell 3%.
Kroger (KR) reported fourth-quarter earnings per share of 57 cents, beating estimates of 54 cents. Revenue was $26.2 billion, missing estimates of $26.29 billion. The company added 9,000 jobs in 2015. Shares lost 8%.
Ciena (CIEN) reported fiscal first-quarter earnings of 18 cents a share, eclipsing forecasts of 14 cents. Sales were $573.1 million, falling short of the $576.3 million analysts expected. Shares fell 17%.
Apple (AAPL) added a tech support handle on Twitter (TWTR) - @AppleSupport, which has 50,000 followers.