The S&P 500 closed 0.1 per cent lower after wavering between small gains and losses. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.3 per cent, while the Nasdaq rose 0.4 per cent.
Energy stocks, the biggest gainers in the benchmark S&P 500 so far this year, were the biggest drag on the market as the price of US crude oil fell below $US90 per barrel for the first time since early February, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Gains in technology stocks, retailers and elsewhere helped keep the losses in energy, health care and other sectors in check.
The muted trading came as investors continued to review the latest updates on the economy and corporate earnings ahead of the government’s monthly snapshot of the nation’s job market Friday.
Investors are eyeing jobs data to gauge whether any tightening in the labor market might prompt the Federal Reserve to eventually ease up on its interest rate hikes as it fights inflation, potentially lessening the chance of the central bank bringing on a recession.
“They wanted to quell demand and temper inflation and they wanted to do so without unduly impacting the labor market in a negative way,” said Katie Nixon, chief investment officer for Northern Trust Wealth Management. “So far, the Fed is going to assess all of this as according to the plan and they’re going to keep going.”
The S&P 500 slipped 3.23 points to 4,151.94, and the Dow dropped 85.68 points to 32,726.82. The Nasdaq rose 52.42 points to 12,720.58. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks gave up 2.47 points, or 0.1 per cent, to close at 1,906.46.
All of the major indexes except for the Dow are on pace for weekly gains after rallying Wednesday.
The price of US crude oil fell 2.3 per cent to settle at $US88.54 per barrel Thursday, weighing on energy company stocks. Exxon Mobil slid 4.2 per cent and Occidental Petroleum fell 5.8 per cent.
Stocks have meandered this week, leaving major indexes mostly higher. August’s follows a standout July that was the S&P 500’s best month since late 2020. But markets remain volatile as gain investors try to determine the economy’s path ahead amid the highest inflation in the four decades and efforts from central banks to fight higher prices.
The Federal Reserve has been aggressively raising interest rates to try and slow the economy and fight inflation, along with other central banks. The Bank of England on Thursday initiated its biggest rate hike in more than a quarter of a century.
Recent economic data from retail sales and employment reports has shown that the economy is already slowing down.
“The cure for high inflation is sometimes high inflation,” Nixon said. “The narrative that we might have been at or past peak inflation is being validated by some of the data coming out.”