* GDP, claims data beat expectations but factory orders fall
* China Mobile signs deal with Apple - report
* Dollar General leads S&P 500 after earnings, sales results
* Indexes off: Dow 0.19 pct, S&P 0.19 pct, Nasdaq 0.07 pct
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, Dec 5 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks fell modestly on Thursday as a round of mixed economic data left investors unsure over how soon the Federal Reserve was prepared to begin winding down its monetary stimulus.
Gross domestic product grew at an annualized 3.6 percent in the third quarter, the fastest pace since the first quarter of 2012, instead of 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 big top line number probably will be looked at very carefully and probably not create as big a market reaction as one would expect from the size of the adjustment,” said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co. Lake Oswego, Oreogon.
“On the surface it looks good, underneath, not quite so good.”
Shares of Apple Inc jumped 1 percent to $570.75, keeping the Nasdaq little changed, 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.
Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, addressing an audience of bankers and business people, downplayed the GDP number on Thursday. “The strong third quarter doesn’t make a trend and ... doesn’t drive me to the conclusion that we’ve had a breakout in terms of growth,” he said, citing “pretty low” ongoing estimates for fourth-quarter growth.
In a positive sign for the labor market ahead of Friday’s payrolls report, data showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 298,000, declining for a third straight week, and below expectations of a rise to 325,000.
But in contrast to the earlier data suggesting an improvement in the economy, new orders for factory goods fell 0.9 percent in October after a 1.8 percent rise in the prior month as demand for aircraft and capital goods weakened, suggesting some cooling in manufacturing.
The S&P 500 has fallen for four straight sessions, shedding 0.8 percent, its longest losing streak since late September as recent economic data cast uncertainty over how soon the Federal Reserve will begin to trim its stimulus of $85 billion in monthly bond purchases.
Many market participants expect the Fed to announce a cut in March. The Fed has said it would slow its stimulus program when certain economic measures meet its targets, including a decline in the U.S. unemployment rate.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 30.34 points, or 0.19 percent, to 15,859.43, the S&P 500 lost 3.39 points, or 0.19 percent, to 1,789.42 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.838 points, or 0.07 percent, to 4,035.163.
Several major U.S. retailers posted disappointing sales for November after cautious shoppers pinched their pennies at the start of a shorter holiday season.
Aeropostale Inc slipped 1 percent to $9.27 after the apparel retailer forecast a much bigger-than-expected loss for the holiday shopping quarter.
But Dollar General Corp gained 5.6 percent to $59.55 as the best performer on the S&P 500 after the discount retailer posted third quarter earnings and said same store sales rose 4.4 percent in the same period.
The S&P retail index edged up 0.1 percent.