MARKET SNAPSHOT: Stocks Struggle For Direction Ahead Of Jackson Hole Meeting

By Carla Mozee, MarketWatch , Ryan Vlastelica Features Dow Jones Newswires

Jobless claims rise less than expected in latest week

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U.S. stocks were relatively flat on Thursday, with major indexes swinging between modest gains and slight losses as traders awaited the highly anticipated gathering of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyo., before making big bets on market direction.

Another factor that could impact trading is the lighter-than-usual levels of trading volume. Stocks had their lightest volume day of the year on Wednesday (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-stocks-trade-at-lightest-volume-of-year-on-wednesday-2017-08-23), with about 5 billion shares traded, well below the year-to-date average of 6.54 billion. Low trading can amplify volatility.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 22 points to 21,790, a decline of 0.1%. The S&P 500 was down 5 points, or 0.2%, at 2,438. The Nasdaq Composite Index lost 27 points, or 0.4%, to 6,252.

The day's lack of direction held across the board, as eight of the 11 primary S&P 500 moved 0.1% on the day, in either direction. Tech shares were the biggest losers, off 0.6%, with consumer staples down 0.6%.

The latest economic data also painted a mixed picture of economic conditions. Jobless claims rose by 2,000 in the latest week, a smaller increase than expected. Separately, a read on new-home sales came in at 571,000, below the 608,000 that had been expected, while mortgage rates fell to their lowest level of the year (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/mortgage-rates-plunge-to-2017-low-2017-08-24).

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The meeting of central bankers is likely to be the primary driver of trading, even though such key speakers as Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen won't appear until Friday.

"You can't underestimate the importance of Jackson Hole, and this year is especially interesting," said Brian Battle, director of trading at Performance Trust Capital Partners. "Yellen's commentary will be closely watched, because investors want to know both if the Fed will be raising rates, and also the timing and the magnitude of the Fed unwinding its portfolio."

For the week, the Dow is on pace to gain 0.5%, the S&P 500 is set to add 0.5%, while the Nasdaq Composite is on track to rise 0.6%, a move that would end a four-week string of declines for the technology-heavy index.

Equities' recent struggle has in part been put down (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/trump-shutdown-threat-rattles-stock-market-2017-08-23) to President Donald Trump's threat late Tuesday to shut down the government if he didn't get funding for a border wall with Mexico.

"The headlines out of D.C. are looming over the stock market," Battle said. "Is there going to be a shutdown? A fight over the debt ceiling? We've heard these threats before, but they seem pretty contentious this time. Plus there is the question about tax reform. If that doesn't get done, that'll take some of the air out of the market."

Words from Wyoming: The program for the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank's symposium, titled "Fostering a Dynamic Global Economy," is set for release (https://www.kansascityfed.org/publications/research/escp) at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. The meeting runs through Saturday.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi will be on the lineup with Yellen on Friday, and investors will watch for any hints on the path for monetary policy from both central bank chiefs.

See:Here's what investors will be watching when Draghi, Yellen speak at Jackson Hole (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-what-investors-will-be-watching-when-draghi-yellen-speak-at-jackson-hole-2017-08-22)

Stock movers:Tiffany & Co.(TIF) posted second-quarter earnings of 92 cents a share (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/tiffany-co-shares-rise-after-earnings-revenue-beat-2017-08-24), beating expectations. Shares fell 0.8%.

Signet shares (SIG) jumped 21% after the jewelry retailer's quarterly earnings and sales beat expectations (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/signet-jewelers-shares-spike-after-earnings-beat-e-commerce-acquisition-2017-08-24).

Burlington Stores(BURL) climbed 4.5% after the discount store chain posted better-than-expected second-quarter results (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/burlington-stores-stock-surges-8-premarket-on-better-than-expected-earnings-2017-08-24) and raised its outlook for the full year.

Sears(SHLD) posted a narrower quarterly loss of $2.34 a share (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/sears-loss-tops-views-to-close-28-kmart-stores-2017-08-24) and said it would close 28 Kmart stores this year. Shares rose 4.6%.

J.M. Smucker Co. shares(SJM) fell 7.2% as the foods producer lowered its full-year outlook and its first-quarter earnings missed estimates (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/jm-smucker-shares-fall-4-premarket-after-earnings-miss-2017-08-24). Hormel Foods Corp.'s(HRL) stock dropped 6.3% after the Spam maker cut its full-year earnings forecast.

The food companies were the two biggest percentage decliners among S&P 500 components, and they pressured the consumer staples space.

U.S.-listed shares of CRH PLC(CRG.DB) were up 4.1% after the Irish building materials company agreed to sell its Americas distribution business (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/crh-to-sell-us-distribution-unit-in-26b-deal-2017-08-24) to Beacon Roofing Supply(BECN). Beacon shares climbed 11%.

A consortium that includes Western Digital Corp.(WDC) will offer 1.9 trillion yen ($17 billion) to purchase Toshiba Corp.'s(6502.TO) memory chip business, sources told Reuters on Thursday. (https://finance.yahoo.com/news/western-digital-group-offer-1-091619106.html)

(https://finance.yahoo.com/news/western-digital-group-offer-1-091619106.html)Invesco Ltd. is reportedly closing in on a $1 billion deal (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/invesco-closes-in-on-1-billion-deal-to-buy-guggenheims-etf-business-2017-08-24) for Guggenheim Partners's ETF business. Shares of Invesco fell 0.8%.

Other markets:In Asian equities, (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/hong-kong-leads-slight-asian-market-gains-2017-08-23) Hong Kong shares finished higher while Japan's Nikkei lost ground. European equities traded modestly higher (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/european-stocks-post-cautious-gains-as-jackson-hole-day-arrives-2017-08-24).

The ICE Dollar Index was up 0.1% at 93.24. A single bitcoin was up 2.2% to $4,283.33 after an upgrade to increase transaction sizes was implemented.

Oil prices (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/oil-prices-ease-with-caution-still-in-place-even-as-us-stockpiles-decline-2017-08-24) dropped 2.3%, while gold prices slipped 0.1% to $1,293.80 an ounce.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 24, 2017 11:43 ET (15:43 GMT)