US STOCKS-Wall St flat as jobless claims data, tech shares weigh

Thu Apr 4, 2013 12:51pm EDT

* Jobless claims disappoint, following private sector report

* Tech shares slide; IBM biggest decliner on Dow

* Best Buy rallies on plan to sell discounted iPads

* Indexes: Dow flat; S&P up 0.1 pct; Nasdaq off 0.3 pct

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK, April 4 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Thursday as concerns about the economy prompted by a series of soft data this week overshadowed market-supporting policies of major central banks.

The latest disappointment came from an unexpected jump in U.S. weekly jobless claims to a four-month high, raising questions about growth and the labor market's recovery.

Technology and energy stocks were the top decliners. IBM was the biggest drag on the Dow, off 1.1 percent at $210.28. Exxon Mobil was off 0.5 percent at $89.46.

U.S. stocks were higher during morning trading as robust action by the Bank of Japan and supportive remarks by European and Federal Reserve officials indicated equity markets would continue to be propped up.

But data showed jobless claims jumped to 385,000 in the latest week, confounding expectations that claims would drop by 7,000 to 350,000. On Wednesday, private-sector hiring also disappointed, spurring concerns about Friday's government payrolls report, which is expected to show that 200,000 jobs were added in March.

"I think the market is showing nervousness after the weak readings this week on the ISM manufacturing, ISM services, the ADP and now the jobless claims. There is a fear of this being the start of a 'spring swoon'," said Jack DeGan, chief investment officer of Harbor Advisory.

"I don't think that is the case, but until we get a couple of real inputs that the economy is improving, the rally is likely to stall considering how far we've come this year."

Wall Street has advanced more than 9 percent this year, partially fueled by a supportive environment from central banks around the world, a trend investors expect to continue.

The benchmark S&P index is about 1.4 percent away from a record intraday peak of 1,576.09.

Market declines have been used as buying opportunities of late, but many investors are calling for a more pronounced pullback. Wednesday's decline was the biggest daily drop for the S&P since February.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 3.32 points, or 0.02 percent, at 14,547.03. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 0.46 points, or 0.03 percent, at 1,554.15. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 11.20 points, or 0.35 percent, at 3,207.40.

The Bank of Japan shocked markets with a radical overhaul of its monetary policy. Japanese shares soared 2.2 percent while the iShares MSCI Japan Index ETF jumped 3.9 percent to $10.88. U.S. shares of Toyota Motor rose 4.5 percent to $105.40.

WisdomTree Japan ETF jumped 7.2 percent to $43.77.

As the U.S. earnings season approaches, first-quarter forecasts for growth have been lowered since the start of the year. S&P 500 company earnings are expected to have risen 1.6 percent from a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data, compared with a January 1 forecast of growth of 4.3 percent.

On Wednesday, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said the Fed had room to keep buying bonds to support the U.S. economic recovery. Earlier Thursday, Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, suggested the Fed's program would continue for at least a few more months.

Retailer Best Buy Co Inc was the S&P's top percentage gainer, rising 12.4 percent to $24.33 after saying it would offer a 30 percent discount on its current stock of Apple iPad 3 tablets in the United States.

Private equity firms TPG Capital and Madison Dearborn Partners are the two finalists bidding for National Financial Partners, a New York-based wealth management company with a market value of nearly $900 million, people familiar with the matter said.

Shares of National rose 4 percent to $23.14.