NEW YORK — Stocks were little changed on Wall Street ahead of the release of the government's March employment report Friday.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up six points, or 0.05 percent, to 14,557 as of 12:45 p.m. EDT Thursday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose one point, or 0.06 percent, to 1,555. The Nasdaq composite slipped seven points to 3,212.
Signs that the economy cooled in March has dampened optimism about the U.S. recovery and pushed stocks down from record levels. The Dow fell 111 points Wednesday, its biggest drop in more than a month, following weak reports on hiring and service industries. On Monday an industry group reported that U.S. manufacturing growth slowed unexpectedly last month.
There was more discouraging economic news Thursday. The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose to a four-month high of 385,000 last week, the Labor Department said. The government will issue its employment report Friday, which investors look at closely for insight into how the U.S. economy is doing.
"The trend seems to be worsening," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. "We're seeing a little hesitation in anticipation of tomorrow's job report."
The stock market got off to a great start in 2013. The Dow climbed 10 percent in the first three months of the year and closed at a record high of 14,662 Tuesday. Investors were cheered by signs that the housing market was recovering and that hiring was picking up. Rising company earnings and continuing Federal Reserve stimulus also boosted demand for stocks.
"Investors have been looking for a reason to sell, given the rally we've seen in the market in the past couple of months," said Joseph Tanious at JPMorgan Funds. "Today, you're seeing investors come back into the market and buy on the dip."
Safer industry groups rose Thursday. Telecommunications companies and utilities led the gains for the S&P 500, rising 0.9 percent and 0.7 percent respectively.
Japanese stocks jumped and the yen sank after the country's central bank announced aggressive measures for getting the world's third-largest economy out of a two-decade slump. The Bank of Japan, under new Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, surprised markets by saying it would greatly increase the country's money supply with the goal of encouraging people and businesses to borrow and spend. The yen weakened 3.5 percent against the dollar, to 96.16 yen, while Tokyo's Nikkei stock index rose 2.2 percent to 12,634.54.
U.S.-listed shares of Japanese automakers rose sharply. A weaker yen would make Japanese vehicles less expensive in markets outside Japan, and therefore more competitive. The U.S. shares of Toyota rose $4.47, or 4.4 percent, to $105.31, Honda's rose $1.88, or 5.1 percent, to $39.08 and the Nissan's rose 84 cents, 4.5 percent, to $19.66. Japanese electronics makers also rose. Sony rose 47 cents, or 3 percent, to $16.90 and Panasonic rose 18 cents, also 3 percent, to $6.61.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, fell to 1.77 percent from 1.81 percent a day earlier. The yield on the note has fallen over the last month as demand for less risky assets increased following the crisis in Cyprus and signs of a slowdown in the U.S. The yield was as high as 2.06 percent on March 11.
Among stocks making big moves, electronics retailer Best Buy jumped 12 percent, or $2.42, to $24.15 after saying it would collaborate with the Korean company Samsung to open Samsung kiosks in its retail outlets.
MetroPCS rose 20 cents, or 2 percent, to $11.16 after Reuters reported that Deutsche Telekom is considering amending the terms of the proposed merger between its T-Mobile USA business and local rival Metro PCS.