US STOCKS-Wall Street flat after mixed data; Qualcomm lifts Nasdaq

Thu Jan 31, 2013 10:41am EST

* Facebook slumps in premarket after earnings

* Jobless claims up, Chicago PMI tops expectations

* Indexes up: Dow 0.16 pct, S&P 0.01 pct, Nasdaq 0.27 pct

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK, Jan 31 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Thursday as investors mulled a mixed bag of economic data, though earnings from Qualcomm helped lift the Nasdaq.

Data showed the labor market improved modestly; the number of Americans filing new claims last week for unemployment benefits rose, beating expectations and bouncing off five-year lows in the prior week.

That comes ahead of Friday's payrolls report, which is expected to show employers added 160,000 jobs in January after an increase of 155,000 in December.

A separate report showed incomes climbed in December by the most in eight years, in an encouraging sign that the economy may be propelled forward through consumer spending.

A gauge of business activity in the U.S. Midwest showed a pick up in January from a more than three-year low in December as new orders jumped. The report followed a disappointing survey from the mid-Atlantic and New York regions.

Qualcomm Inc gained 5.9 percent to $67.25 as the top boost to the Nasdaq 100 after the world's leading supplier of chips for cellphones beat analysts' expectations for quarterly profit and revenue, and raised its targets for the year.

The worst performer on the Nasdaq was Facebook Inc, which lost 5.9 percent to $29.39. The social network company said Wednesday it doubled its mobile advertising revenue in the fourth quarter; however, that growth trailed some of Wall Street's most aggressive estimates.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 22.88 points, or 0.16 percent, to 13,933.30. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 0.21 points, or 0.01 percent, to 1,502.17. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 8.43 points, or 0.27 percent, to 3,150.73.

The S&P 500 has gained 5.3 percent in January, after legislators in Washington temporarily sidestepped a "fiscal cliff" of automatic tax increases and spending cuts that could have derailed the economic recovery, and amid improving economic data and better-than-expected corporate earnings.

But the benchmark index has stalled recently and is virtually flat for the week, hovering near the 1,500 mark, as investors look for fresh trading incentives to justify further gains.

"Unfortunately it's still a mixed picture, it appears we are just getting a lot of conflicting data right now," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago.

"There is certainly a lot of information coming out this week - a lot of economic data, a lot of earnings and of course we have the employment number looming Friday, so with 1,500 right here, my guess is there is just not enough conviction to push us substantially higher yet."

United Parcel Service Inc lost 1.6 percent to $79.95 after the world's largest parcel delivery reported fourth-quarter earnings below analysts' estimates on Thursday and forecast weaker-than-expected profit for 2013.

But the Dow Jones Transportation average gained 0.5 percent as Kirby Corp added 7.6 percent to $71.57 and Ryder Systems Inc climbed 4.7 percent to $56.79 after posting quarterly results.

Thomson Reuters data through Thursday morning shows that of the 231 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings this season, 69.3 percent have exceeded expectations, a higher proportion than over the past four quarters and above the average since 1994.

Overall, S&P 500 fourth-quarter earnings are forecast to have risen 3.7 percent. That's above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season, but well below a 9.9 percent profit growth forecast on Oct. 1, the data showed.

WMS Industries Inc surged 52.5 percent to $24.96 after the company agreed to be acquired by Scientific Games Corp for $26 per share in cash. Scientific Games jumped 19 percent to $10.63.