US stocks mostly lower ahead of jobs report

NEW YORK: US stocks Thursday ended mostly lower amid concerns about Friday's monthly US labor report and the kickoff of corporate earnings season.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 17.98 (0.11 percent) to 16,444.76.

The broad-based SandP 500 edged 0.64 (0.03 per cent) higher to 1,838.13, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 9.42 (0.23 per cent) to 4,156.19.

The results continued the sluggish start to the stock market in 2014.

Leading indices have fallen three of four days this week.

Gregori Volokhine, president of Meeschaert Capital Markets, said investors fear that a strong US jobs report Friday will lead the US Federal Reserve to "more aggressively" scale back its stimulus.

At the same time, some "very disappointing" early earnings reports from retailers Family Dollar and Bed, Bath and Beyond has investors on edge about earnings season, Volokhine said.

Family Dollar dropped 2.1 per cent nad Bed, Bath and Beyond sank 12.5 per cent after both companies reported earnings that missed expectations.

Ford Motor rose 1.9 per cent after announcing it will boost its first-quarter dividend by 25 per cent to 12.5 cents per share.

The company also said its policy is to "target a regular, growing dividend."

Alcoa shares fell 1.3 per cent after the Justice Department announced charges that a joint venture in controls bribed Bahrain officials to get business; Alcoa agreed to settle the charges with US agencies for US$384 million.

Carrier United Continental gained 6.8 per cent after announcing its per-passenger-mile revenue rose strongly in December and that its overall fourth quarter capacity would be up a solid 2.6 per cent from 2012.

Biotech firm Intercept Pharmaceuticals rocketed 281.1 per cent after announcing positive results from trials of its treatment for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a leading cause of cirrhosis and liver failure.

Macy's jumped 7.6 per cent after confirming its 2013 profit forecast based on a "successful" holiday shopping season and providing a 2014 forecast that bested analyst expectations.

Separately, the company announced plans to slash 2,500 jobs.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year US Treasury slipped to 2.96 per cent from 2.99 per cent Wednesday, while the 30-year fell to 3.87 per cent from 3.88 per cent. Bond prices and yields move inversely.-- AFP