By Anora Mahmudova, MarketWatch
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks on Thursday retreated from record levels reached during the previous session but trimmed losses by midday, shrugging off economic reports that mostly disappointed.
Weekly jobless claims rose to their highest level since late March, though the increase is most likely due to seasonal ups and downs. Existing-home sales for November slumped 4.3%, a third month of declines, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.9 million, on higher mortgage rates and low inventory. The Philadelphia Fed's December manufacturing index rises to 7, but below the consensus of 11. Leading indicators index for November rose to 98.3, showing modest expansion in the economy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) briefly turned positive, but was mostly flat at 16,168.45. S&P 500 index (SPX) was down 3 points, or 0.2%, to 1,807.352. Nasdaq Composite shed 12 points, or 0.3%, to 4,057.14.
Both Dow and S&P 500 closed at all-time highs on Wednesday as investors took the view that a Fed tapering meant confidence in the economy and welcomed the central bank's commitment to low rates until the unemployment rate declines well below 6.5%, especially if projected inflation remains below the 2% target.
Broad-based losses on the S&P 500 were led by utilities and consumer staples sectors.
"This positive forward guidance on short-term interest rates appears to have offset any near-term concerns about tapering," Gary Thayer, chief macro strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors, wrote in a note.
"This was probably an intentional decision by policymakers to smooth out the market impact of tapering," he added.
In corporate news:
* Facebook fell 2.3% after the social network said it plans a public offering of 70 million Class A shares, with 27 million from Facebook itself and the rest from major shareholders, with co-founder Mark Zuckerberg putting up the majority.
* Oracle rose 4.7% after the tech company's quarterly results beat Wall Street forecasts late Wednesday.
* Darden Restaurants Inc. was down 5% after the restaurant chain company missed analysts expectations. The firm also said it expects to spin off its struggling Red Lobster chain after facing pressure from shareholders.
* ConAgra Foods Inc. jumped 6% after reaffirming its full-year outlook and posting a fiscal second-quarter profit and sales gain.
* Rite Aid Corp. shares fell 9.7% after the company cut its per-share estimate for the fiscal year, but trimmed losses to trade down 2%. It said fiscal third-quarter earnings rose 16%.
* Shares of Target Corp. fell 2% after the company was hit by an extensive credit-card breach over the Black Friday shopping weekend.
* Accenture shares climbed 4.4% after the management consulting firm said it earned $1.15 per share in the fiscal first quarter, up from $1.06 in the same quarter a year ago. That earnings growth came from higher revenue and growth in new bookings.
In other markets:
* Gold futures dropped below $1,200 an ounce on Thursday, poised for their lowest close in more than three years, as the Federal Reserve's January tapering plans and a rally in the U.S. dollar drove prices lower. March silver was hit even harder Thursday, down 81 cents, or 4%, to $19.26 an ounce.
* European markets sailed higher, while Japan stocks soared to seven-month highs.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 19, 2013 12:56 ET (17:56 GMT)Copyright (c) 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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