* GDP and jobless claims data beat expectations
* Apple hits 52-week high after China Mobile comments
* J.C. Penney falls on Morgan Stanley note
* Dow off 0.2 pct, S&P 500 down 0.2 pct, Nasdaq off 0.04 pct
By Rodrigo Campos
NEW YORK, Dec 5 U.S. stocks edged lower on
Thursday after a round of mixed economic data left traders
guessing how soon the Federal Reserve would begin to wind down
an asset-purchase program that has helped equities rally.
Gross domestic product grew at an annualized rate of 3.6
percent in the third quarter, the fastest pace since the first
quarter of 2012, compared with the 2.8 percent pace reported
earlier. Economists polled by Reuters had expected growth would
be revised up to 3.0 percent.
But strong inventory accumulation in the face of sluggish
domestic demand means businesses will need to draw down on
stocks, which will weigh on GDP growth this quarter.
The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment
benefits unexpectedly fell last week, however, a hopeful sign
for the labor market's recovery.
Traders have been trying to second-guess how the Fed views
strong data and if the numbers would be strong enough for the
U.S. central bank to start to trim its $85 billion-a-month
bond-buying program that has been a pillar of this year's rally.
The Dow, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite are up more than
20 percent so far this year.
"This data is spilling into a market that doesn't know how
to react to good and bad (economic) news," said Drew Wilson, an
analyst at Fenimore Asset Management in Cobleskill, New York.
"Bargains are harder and harder to find," he said, pointing
to the rally in equities this year. When the market reacts
negatively to expectations of the Fed's next move, he said,
"those become buying opportunities for us."
Expectations for a near-term start to the Fed's tapering
were offset after Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said the
GDP data "doesn't make a trend and ... doesn't drive me to the
conclusion that we've had a breakout in terms of growth."
The Fed has reiterated that its quantitative easing program
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 30.82 points or
0.19 percent, to 15,858.95. The S&P 500 lost 4.29 points
or 0.24 percent, to 1,788.52. The Nasdaq Composite
dropped 1.491 points or 0.04 percent, to 4,036.51.
The Dow and the S&P 500 are on track to post their first
negative week in nine.
Apple shares shot up 1.3 percent to $572.11 - off a
52-week high of $575.14 - after China Mobile Ltd, the
country's largest mobile operator, said it was still negotiating
to offer iPhones on its network. A media report had earlier said
the long-awaited agreement had been reached.
But Microsoft shares fell 3.6 percent to $37.52 in
heavy volume. This was the stock's largest daily drop in three
months, making it the biggest points decliner by far in the
Nasdaq 100 and outweighing Apple's boost.
J.C. Penney shares slid 7.4 percent to $8.95 after Morgan
Stanley reiterated its "underweight" rating on the stock and
said November's 10 percent sales growth was not enough to change
the company's outlook.
Other major U.S. retailers posted disappointing sales for
November as cautious shoppers pinched their pennies at the start
of the holiday season.
Costco shares fell 1.5 percent to $121.11 after he
warehouse club chain said sales at stores open at least a year
rose 2 percent, below the 3.3 percent increase that analysts
But Dollar General Corp gained 6.4 percent to $59.94
and ranked as the S&P 500's best performer after the discount
retailer posted third-quarter earnings and said same-store sales
rose 4.4 percent in the same period.