Dow, S&P slip on weak retail; jobs data awaited

The Dow and S&P 500 slipped on Thursday on disappointing December sales from some top retailers, and investors braced for Friday’s employment report, a key gauge of the economy.

Several big U.S. retailers missed estimates for December sales after a post-Christmas blizzard that slowed a two-month shopping spree, driving down consumer shares. Target Corp (TGT.N) fell 6.8 percent to $54.91.

The disappointing retail sales contrasted with Wednesday’s economic data showing a jump in private-sector jobs for December, which buoyed optimism about Friday’s December employment report from the Labor Department.

The ADP Employer Services survey, which showed private employers added 297,000 jobs last month, raised expectations about Friday’s broader employment report from the government.

“The market has just been on a tear … and a lot of investors are probably sitting on their hands waiting for the (jobs) report tomorrow,” said Don Wordell, portfolio manager of RidgeWorth MidCap Value Fund in Orlando, Florida.

“After the report on Wednesday, I would say the market probably needs to see a private employment number close to 200,000 and the overall number better be up that high too. If it’s materially below that, I think that would be a reason for the market to sell off.”

Economists in a Reuters poll are forecasting a 175,000 gain in overall non-farm payrolls on Friday and a 180,000 gain in private payrolls. A lack of job growth has been a major drag on the U.S. recovery.

The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) was down 41.62 points, or 0.36 percent, at 11,681.27. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (.GSPC) was down 0.3 percent at 1272.17. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC) was up 3.55 points, or 0.13 percent, at 2,705.75.

Recent market gains have put the S&P 500 in overbought territory, analysts said, suggesting a temporary pullback could be in store in the near term. The S&P 500 is up about 8 percent since the start of December.

Telecommunications shares, including Verizon (VZ.N), were among top drags on the Dow. AT&T (T.N) was down 1.9 percent at $29 while shares of Verizon were down 2.8 percent at $36.15.

Energy shares added to losses as oil prices tumbled $1.74 to $88.56 a barrel. The S&P energy index (.GSPE) fell 0.9 percent.

Among Nasdaq gainers was Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), which took a big step away from its alliance with Intel Corp (INTC.O) to team up with Britain’s ARM Holdings (ARM.L) in the red-hot tablet and smart phone arena. U.S.-listed ARM shares (ARMH.O) slipped 0.1 percent at $21.85, Intel fell 1.6 percent to $20.60. [ID:nN05285026] Microsoft was up 1.6 percent at $28.46.

In other economic data, new jobless claims rose more than expected for the week, but the four-week average dropped to its lowest in more than 2 years, indicating labor market improvement remained intact.

Economists raised forecasts for government payrolls numbers due Friday.

After hitting a high near 1,278 on Wednesday and on the heels of better economic data, the S&P 500 faces resistance in the 1,300-1,325 area, according to Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vermont.

Short-term support for the S&P is seen around 1,258, the 2010 close and the current 50-day moving average.