By Anna Hirtenstein and Gunjan Banerji
U.S. stocks were mixed Thursday as weekly jobless claims declined and investors looked ahead to Friday's monthly jobs report.
The S&P 500 was down 0.1% as of the 4 p.m. close of trading in New York, a day after the broad-market index closed at another all-time high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 87 points, or 0.3%. The Nasdaq Composite rose 0.2%.
The S&P 500 has repeatedly eked out fresh records on the back of investors' optimism that Covid-19 vaccines will accelerate the economic rebound next year. But rich valuations for stocks and elevated infection levels are tempering some of that cheer, leading to a more subdued move upward in recent days.
Weekly jobless claims, seen as a proxy for layoffs, dropped to 712,000 for the week ended Nov. 28. That was lower than economists had expected, reflecting a moderate improvement in the pace of recovery of the labor market. The monthly jobs report will be released on Friday.
Meanwhile, activity in the U.S. services sector expanded for the sixth straight month in November, a sign that activity held up despite the rise in Covid-19 cases, IHS Markit data showed Thursday.
"Markets have been driving higher, seeing 2021 as the year economies will snap back," said Peter Dixon, an economist at Commerzbank. "There is concern a lot of the good news is already priced in, so I don't expect markets to go shooting into the stratosphere any time soon, but we could see a general grind higher."
Shares of airlines, cruise operators and small companies -- sectors that have benefited from enthusiasm about a vaccine -- outperformed the broader market on Thursday.
Boeing jumped about 7.4% in recent trading and was on track for its highest close since March. The Russell 2000 index of small companies advanced 1.1%.
Anna Rathbun, chief investment officer of CBIZ Investment Advisory Services, said she increased exposure to small companies recently, in part because of optimism about the economic recovery and the vaccine.
"We understand that it may be rocky, but we are long-term investors," Ms. Rathbun said of the recovery.
In other corporate news, Tesla gained about 4% after Goldman Sachs upgraded the stock's rating to buy and raised the price target to $780. That's about a 37% jump from $568.82, where shares closed Wednesday. Tesla will be added to the S&P 500 later this month, which would prompt passive funds that track the index to add the stock to their portfolios.
Data-analytics firm Splunk plunged 20% after its third-quarter revenue fell because customers pulled back from large contracts. Its forecast also disappointed investors.
In bond markets, the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note edged down to 0.918%, from 0.948% on Wednesday.
The dollar weakened against a basket of currencies, with the ICE U.S. Dollar Index declining 0.4% to the lowest since April 2018.
Overseas, the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 was little changed.
European regulators are expected to make a decision on approving the use of coronavirus-vaccine candidates at the end of the month. Speedier moves by the U.K. and the U.S. will give those nations an edge, and could make their stocks more attractive, investors said.
"Europe seems to be the laggard when it comes to vaccine rollouts, it seems like it will take longer to approve," said Shaniel Ramjee, a multiasset fund manager at Pictet Asset Management. "And logistically, Europe is more fragmented and might not be uniform."
In Asia, most major benchmarks ended the trading session higher.
The Shanghai Composite Index edged down 0.2% by the close. American lawmakers on Wednesday approved legislation that could result in a trading ban on the shares of U.S.-listed Chinese companies over concerns about their audit quality.
Write to Anna Hirtenstein at email@example.com and Gunjan Banerji at Gunjan.Banerji@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires