United States stocks took a breather as investors await key news from the Federal Reserve next week, with the S&P 500 index snapping a seven-session rally.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 25.96 points, or 0.17%, to 15,300.64 points. The index seesawed between gains and losses within a 62-point range in the session. That was a tight range after three consecutive sessions of triple-digit gains left the Dow Wednesday with its biggest three-session winning streak since the one ended Jan. 3.
The S&P 500 index lost 5.71 points, or 0.34%, to 1,683.42 points, led by declines in the materials sector.
The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 9.04 points, or 0.24%, to 3,715.97 points.
"We're not seeing the same momentum of the past few days," Meridian Equity Partners Inc senior managing partner Jonathan Corpina said.
"With no real major news moving the market, investors with short-term positions are taking the opportunity to take some profits off the table."
The Labor Department reported that the number of new jobless claims fell to the lowest level since 2006 last week, but attributed much of the decline to missing claims from two states. Initial claims for jobless benefits in the latest week fell to 292,000, well below expectations for a rise to 330,000. The Labor Department said two states made changes to their computer systems that resulted in some claims not being processed in time.
Meanwhile, import prices were unchanged in August. Economists had expected a gain of 0.5%. Additionally, US government data showed the country to be on track for its lowest budget deficit since 2008, as the gap between spending and revenue continues to contract. The federal budget logged a $148 billion deficit in August, below economist expectations for a $150 billion deficit.
The flat reading on import prices suggests inflation remains under control, "giving the Fed greater leeway" in its decision next week on whether to begin reducing its economic-stimulus measures, OakBrook Investments co-chief investment officer Peter Jankovskis said.
The Federal Reserve will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday next week to discuss the state of the US economy and the fate of the central bank's $85-billion-a-month asset-purchasing program.
The market has been boosted recently by a combination of reduced tensions over Syria, improving economic data out of Europe and China and expectations that the Fed won't be as aggressive in winding down stimulus measures as previously thought given recent lacklustre employment data.
"The upward trajectory is in place," said Dan Veru, chief investment officer at Palisade Capital Management, which has about $4.2 billion of assets under management.
"The global growth story, led by the US, is now reinforced by China and a little by Europe."
But that upward move can't continue without some bumps in the road, Mr Veru said. Regardless of what happens over the next couple of weeks, he said he thinks stocks will finish the year higher than they are now.
Thursday was a quiet day with "the euphoria around the Syria situation fading," said Uri Landesman, president of New York-based hedge fund Platinum Partners. But that euphoria helped push stocks up earlier this week, leaving the S&P 500 "at a very important technical level," he said.
Mr Landesman expects to see a significant market pullback before the end of the year.
European markets slipped after data showing euro-zone industrial production in July fell 1.5% on the month, compared with expectations of a 0.1% rise. The Stoxx Europe 600 dropped less than 0.1% from Wednesday's five-year closing high.
Asian markets were mostly higher, backed by a strong US session on Wednesday, with China's Shanghai Composite rising 0.6% to a three-month high. Japan's Nikkei, however, slipped 0.3% as a strengthening of the yen weighed on exporter shares.
October crude-oil futures added 1% to settle at $108.60 a barrel, while September gold futures fell 2.5% to $1,330.40 an ounce, settling at its lowest level in a month. The dollar lost ground the yen, but rose against the euro.
The 10-year Treasury bond interest rate fell to 2.907% as prices rose.
In corporate news, Apple Inc edged up one% after dropping 7.6% over the past two sessions amid disappointment over the new product launches. Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn said on CNBC late Wednesday that he increased his position in Apple because he believed the stock was cheap.
Lululemon slumped 5.4% after the maker of yoga gear provided a fiscal third-quarter earnings and revenue outlook that was below current analyst projections, and trimmed its full-year outlook, overshadowing better-than-expected second-quarter results.
Pandora Media jumped 12.11% after naming Brian McAndrews, a former aQuantive and Microsoft executive, as its chief executive and chairman. The move comes six months after Joe Kennedy said he would be stepping down from the Internet-radio firm's helm.