U.S. stocks opened near the flatline on Thursday in the last day of trade for the week as investors digested economic data and set up for Friday’s jobs report.
Futures were little changed following a decline in weekly jobless claims to 268,000. February’s trade deficit also came in much smaller than expected at $35.4 billion.
The U.S. 10-year Treasury yield rose after the reports to as high as 1.88 percent.
“Everyone’s worried about a potential deterioration in the labor market. Another strong weekly claims number is a good thing,” said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab. “The biggest challenge is even if we knew what was going to happen but we don’t know how the market is going to react”
“There’s a whole group of mixed opinion out there, whether good (economic data) is good or good is bad,” he said.
U.S. stocks trended lower in the last few weeks as investors sought to determine when the Federal Reserve would find enough economic indicators that would support a short-term interest rate hike.
“I think the equity market here is stuck in a range,” said David O’Malley, CEO of Penn Mutual Asset Management. “I think we have to get more certainty about what’s happening with the Fed.”
Friday’s labor market report is expected to show an increase in nonfarm payrolls of around 250,000 in March, to leave the unemployment rate unchanged at a more-than six-and-a-half-year low of 5.5 percent. Investors will also watch for wage growth.
“The market (thinks) employment is pretty good. Really what can happen there is be disappointed. Really we need some more strength in other indicators and continued strength in employment because I think good employment is priced into the market,” O’Malley said.
The Challenger job cut report showed U.S. employers announced 36,594 layoffs last month, down 27.6 percent from February, but up 6.4 percent from March 2014.
Factory orders for February are due at 10:00 a.m. ET and are likely to register their second consecutive decline. Natural gas inventories come later in the day;.
The S&P 500 opened down 2.21 points, or 011 percent, at 2,057, with energy leading six sectors lower and consumer staples leading gains.
The Nasdaq opened up 1.46 points, or 0.05 percent, at 4,882.
Advancers were slightly ahead of decliners on the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 44 million in the open and a composite volume of 98 million.
Crude oil futures fell $1.14, or 2.28 percent, to $48.87 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold futures fell $fell $6.50, or 0.54 percent, to $1,201.60 an ounce.
In corporate news, Lumber Liquidators said March sales were hurt by the “60 Minutes” report on alleged safety problems with its flooring, falling 12.8 percent compared to a year ago. However, it also notes that first quarter sales were up 5.6 percent, which puts them above Street estimates.
Kraft Foods, Mondelez—The CFTC sued the two companies for alleged manipulation of wheat futures and cash wheat prices. Some of the incidents mentioned in the complaint occurred before the 2012 transaction which split Kraft and Mondelez into separate companies. Mondelez said it does not expect any payment resulting from this case to be material to investors, and Kraft tells CNBC that Mondelez will predominantly bear any costs related to the case.
Pfizer will shut down its vaccine sales operation in China after regulators did not renew an import license for its anti-bacterial treatment Prevenar, the only vaccine it sells in that country.
AIG has been sued by investment firm Pimco, with dozens of Pimco funds saying they suffered sizable losses during the 2008 financial crisis due to AIG’s investment in “exotic securities.” AIG said it would vigorously defend itself against those charges.
—CNBC’s Peter Schacknow contributed to this report.
On tap this week:
8:30 am: Initial claims
8:30 am: International trade
10:00 am: Factory orders
Good Friday holiday
Stock and bond markets closed
Futures markets open holiday schedule
8:30 am: Employment
8:30 am: Minneapolis Fed President Narayana welcoming remarks, community development conference