| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Stocks fell on Thursday as economic data sent mixed signals on the recovery a day before the April payrolls report, while shares of Green Mountain GMCR.O plunged after poor results.
Slower-than-expected growth in the dominant U.S. services sector drove the day's trading. The retail sector dragged the market lower after several chains, including Target Corp (TGT.N) and Gap Inc (GPS.N), fell after missing April sales estimates.
Market expectations for Friday's non-farm payrolls report have fallen this week. Traders now suspect the economy added 125,000 to 150,000 jobs in April, below a Reuters consensus forecast of 170,000. One trader said there had even been some talk of a number below 100,000.
Still, the S&P 500 kept up its flirtation with new four-year highs, although it has struggled to rise above resistance at the 1,400 level.
Ryan Larson, head of equity trading at RBC Capital Management, said muted reactions to recent signs of economic weakness suggest some investors are counting on more monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve if the data gets worse.
"You are going back to 'bad numbers are good numbers'," he said, referring to the latest change in Wall Street's perception of discouraging data. "The market will believe that (Fed Chairman) Bernanke & Co will have to step in."
Shares of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters lost 47.8 percent to $25.87 a day after the company badly missed sales estimates for the second time in three quarters. The stock was the second-biggest drag on the Nasdaq 100 <.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI dropped 61.98 points, or 0.47 percent, to 13,206.59 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX fell 10.74 points, or 0.77 percent, to 1,391.57. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC lost 35.55 points, or 1.16 percent, to 3,024.30.
After the closing bell, LinkedIn Corp (LNKD.N) reported better-than-expected revenue and profit, racking up strong growth from services that help companies find and hire employees. The stock jumped 7 percent to $117.10 in extended trade. [ID:nL1E8G3NRZ] During regular trading, the stock had closed at $109.41, up 2.8 percent.
With Thursday's decline, the S&P 500 has fallen close to its 50-day moving average of around 1,386.48. The benchmark index has retraced about 50 percent of its move off its closing low of 1,358.59 on April 10.
The S&P 500 slipped in April, the first monthly drop since November, on softening domestic data, coupled with flare-ups in the euro zone's debt crisis.
In Thursday's regular session, retail stocks fell after several large chains missed sales estimates in April. The results were a troubling sign for consumer spending.
Gap Inc (GPS.N) fell 1.6 percent to $28.67 while Target Corp (TGT.N) dropped 2.5 percent to $56.55. The S&P retail index .RLX lost 0.9 percent.
Initial jobless claims posted their biggest weekly drop since May 2011 and countered Wednesday's weaker report on private-sector hiring.
The Institute for Supply Management's report on Thursday showed the pace of growth in the large U.S. services sector slowed more than expected in April, with drops in both new orders and employment. That was in contrast to the ISM's report on Tuesday, which showed U.S. manufacturing activity picked up in April.
"This is a continuation of the volatility and fits and starts we've seen in economic data, and that's causing investors to take a wait-and-see attitude before tomorrow," said Chuck Carlson, chief executive of Horizon Investment Services LLC in Hammond, Indiana.
General Motors Co (GM.N) lost 2.4 percent to $22.37 after analysts said the company's North America outlook implied results for the first nine months of the year would fall short of expectations.
Health Net Inc HNT.N slid 24.9 percent to $27.26 after profit missed expectations and the insurer cut its forecast. The Morgan Stanley healthcare payor index .HMO dropped 4 percent.
Of the 391 companies in the S&P 500 index reporting results, 68.3 percent have exceeded expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data through Thursday morning.
In the mergers-and-acquisitions arena, Dutch food and chemicals group DSM (DSMN.AS) agreed to buy medical device maker Kensey Nash Corp KNSY.O for $360 million. News of the deal drove Kensey Nash shares up 32.1 percent to $38.33.
Volume was 6.9 billion shares on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE Amex, above the daily average of around 6.76 billion.
Decliners outpaced advancers by a ratio of 7 to 3 on the NYSE, while on the Nasdaq, three stocks fell for every one that rose.
(Editing by Jan Paschal)