Stocks had been solidly lower much of the day, but did recover some of their losses after news outlets reported that the European Central Bank would consider a large stimulus package for next month.
Earlier comments from ECB President Mario Draghi were initially interpreted to mean the bank wouldn’t act until next year, but by late Thursday consensus was building that stimulus was imminent.
“The ECB and Draghi basically said, ‘we don’t know what we are doing yet, but when we do it next month, it’s going to be big,’” said Ian Winer, head of equity trading at Wedbush Securities.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 12.52 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,900.10. It was down nearly 100 points earlier in the day.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 2.41 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,071.92 and the Nasdaq composite fell 5.04 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,769.44.
Energy stocks were among the hardest hit. The S&P 500’s energy sector lost nearly 1 percent as the price of oil sank yet again. Benchmark U.S. crude fell 57 cents to close at $66.81 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on news that Saudi Arabia reduced its January prices to U.S. and Asian customers. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 28 cents to close at $69.64 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In the U.S., the main focus will be the November jobs report, which comes out Friday. Following some solid hiring data on Wednesday from private payrolls firm ADP, economists expect that employers added 225,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate slipped to 5.7 percent from 5.8 percent.
Traders got another piece of job-related news Thursday. The number of people who filed for unemployment benefits fell by 17,000 to 297,000, the Labor Department said. A reading below 300,000 has been a signal that hiring continues to pick up in the U.S.
“At current levels, [the jobless claims numbers] are consistent with a very low layoff rate and solid employment growth,” Guy Berger and Michelle Girard, economists at RBS, wrote in a note to clients.
U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.24 percent from 2.28 percent late Wednesday.
Barnes & Noble dropped $1.21, or 5.4 percent, to $21.03 after the company terminated its commercial agreement with Microsoft for its Nook e-reader. Barnes & Noble bought out Microsoft’s stake in the Nook for $120 million in cash and stock, freeing the company to spin off its Nook business down the road. Microsoft rose 76 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $48.84.
In other energy futures trading:
- Wholesale gasoline fell 1.2 cents to close at $1.795 a gallon
- Heating oil fell 1.5 cents to close at $2.118 a gallon.
- Natural gas fell 15.6 cents to close at $3.649 per 1,000 cubic feet.