The Dow Jones industrial average fell 27.24, or 0.31%, to 8,742.46, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq gained 1.12% to close at 1,617.01. The S&P 500 improved by 3.08 points to finish the day at 909.73.
Though hardly stellar, the results provided some relief from sharp losses the previous day.
On Wednesday, the Dow fell 245.40 points, or 2.7%, to close at 8,769.70, as Alcoa announced plans to cut 15,000 jobs and Time Warner announced that it would post a loss for 2008. The S&P 500 fell 28.05, of 3%, to close at 906.65 Wednesday. The Nasdaq Composite fell 53.32, or 3.2% to close at 1599.06.
Major indexes swung sharply Thursday morning. The Dow and the S&P hovered below opening levels by midafternoon. The Nasdaq had risen slightly by then, up 0.002% or .29, at 1,599.69.
Although new jobless claims fell last week for the second week in a row, the trend failed to lift the markets. That's likely because it occurred during the holidays when people are busy with families and unemployment offices were closed for Christmas and New Year's. Next week's figures should shed light on whether or not the holidays were responsible for the reversal.
Either way, the overall employment picture is bleak, with at least 4.61 million people in the United States unemployed. That's a 26-year high and beyond earlier projections of 4.5 million seeking unemployment. The nation's unemployment rate is at 7%.
Retailers from Saks to Wal-Mart reported declines in sales and trimmed fourth-quarter projections as a result. Analysts predict continued economic struggles through the first half of this year, and President-elect Barack Obama warned that if Congress delayed passage of his economic stimulus plan, the current recession could last for years.