NEW YORK – Stocks drifted near the unchanged mark on Thursday as investors postponed big bets before the November employment report on Friday, but technology stocks rose on gains in Apple and Broadcom.
Monthly payroll numbers, to be released by the Labor Department, are expected to show a sharp slowdown in jobs growth because of superstorm Sandy.
Broadcom boosted other semiconductor companies a day after it forecast fourth-quarter revenue at the high end of its target range due to slightly better-than-expected sales in its mobile business. Shares rose 1.9 percent to $32.97.
The S&P technology index was the best performing of the 10 major S&P sectors, gaining 0.36 percent. The PHLX semiconductor index rose 0.5 percent.
Apple was up 1.4 percent after losing as much as 3.7 percent at the open. The stock suffered its biggest one-day drop in four years on Wednesday due to concerns about higher capital gains taxes in 2013 and the company's market share in the tablet market.
Apple Inc's rank in China's smartphone market fell to No. 6 in the third quarter as it faces tougher competition from Chinese brands, research firm IDC said.
Broader moves were limited, however, as traders focused on the "fiscal cliff" debate. About three weeks remain before a series of tax increases and spending cuts would begin that could slow growth. Legislators are trying to come up with a deal to avoid some of the negative effects on the economy while still reducing the U.S. budget deficit.
While Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives insist that raising tax rates on the rich is not negotiable, some GOP lawmakers now see it as inevitable to avoid the fiscal cliff.
"As we get close to the last two weeks, things will pick up," said Gordon Charlop, managing director at Rosenblatt Securities in New York. Congress and the White House will have final discussions near the end of the year about how to handle the "fiscal cliff," he said.
Without action from Congress, tax cuts on capital gains and dividends will expire at the end of 2012, which has contributed to selling certain stocks that have done extremely well in recent years, such as Apple.
The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 7.93 points, or 0.06 percent, at 13,026.56. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 0.14 point, or 0.01 percent, at 1,409.14. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 8.31 points, or 0.28 percent, at 2,982.00.
Sirius XM Radio shares rose 1.4 percent to $2.81 after its board approved a $2 billion stock repurchase and declared a special dividend, giving a big payout to its largest shareholder, Liberty Media , which rose 2.3 percent to $108.87.
Garmin shares rose 4.5 percent to $41.49 after Standard & Poor's said it would add the navigation device maker to the S&P 500 index. Garmin will replace R.R. Donnelley & Sons after the close of trading on December 11.
(Editing by Kenneth Barry)