Stocks closed mostly unchanged Thursday, as an earlier rally in oil prices faded and investors waited for the release of a closely watched jobs report on Friday.
AT THE CLOSE ON WALL STREET: The Dow Jones industrial average was up 9.5 points, about 0.05 percent, to 17,660.7. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was off less than a point at 2,050.6. The Nasdaq composite lost 8.6 points, about 0.2 percent, to 4,707.1.
OIL PRICES: Crude oil prices gave up much of an early gain that had been driven by concerns that production could be impacted by a massive fire sweeping through the Canadian oil sands hub of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Despite what turned out to be a relatively modest rise in oil prices, energy companies were still the best performing part of the market. The energy component of the S&P 500 rose 0.7 percent.
As markets closed the price of U.S. benchmark crude oil was up 59 cents at $44.37 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, the price of Brent crude, the international pricing standard, gained 47 cents to $45.09 a barrel.
JOBS REPORT: The market’s focus is turning to the U.S. jobs report for April due out Friday. Investors will be watching closely to see if it could have any impact on the Federal Reserve’s plans for raising interest rates at its next policy meeting in June. Economists expect the report to show jobs grew by 200,000 last month while the unemployment rate stayed at 5 percent.
A private sector jobs report released by ADP on Wednesday showed that private employers created only 156,000 jobs last month, which was significantly below economists’ estimates.
Ahead of Friday’s numbers, investors remain reluctant to make any significant bets. Several traders and strategists have said there is no major catalyst to move the market higher at the moment.
ANALYST’S OPINION: “There’s just too many unknowns right now, and there’s nothing to get people going in the market. The jobs numbers may provide some guidance,” said analyst J.J. Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade.