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Stocks Little Changed As Monthly Jobs Report Looms - U.S. Commentary

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Stocks have shown a lack of direction over the course of the trading session on Thursday after failing to sustain an early upward move. The major averages have spent the day bouncing back and forth across the unchanged line.

Currently, the major averages are turning in a mixed performance. While the Dow is down 22.60 points or 0.1 percent at 24,778.76, the Nasdaq is up 17.48 points or 0.2 percent at 7,414.13 and the S&P 500 is up 1.59 points or 0.1 percent at 2,728.39.

The choppy trading on Wall Street comes as traders seem reluctant to make significant moves ahead of the release of the Labor Department's closely watched monthly jobs report on Friday.

Employment is expected to jump by 200,000 jobs in February, matching the increase seen in January. The unemployment rate is expected to dip to 4.0 percent from 4.1 percent.

Ahead of the monthly report, the Labor Department released a report this morning showing a bigger than expected rebound in initial jobless claims in the week ended March 3rd.

The report said initial jobless claims climbed to 231,000, an increase of 21,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 210,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to rise to 220,000.

The bigger than expected increase came after jobless claims fell to their lowest level since December of 1969 in the previous week.

Uncertainty about the details of President Donald Trump's planned tariffs on steel and aluminum imports may also be keeping some traders on the sidelines.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders suggested in comments on Wednesday that Mexico and Canada could be exempt from the tariffs.

Traders are also digesting the European Central Bank's latest monetary policy decision, with the ECB leaving rates unchanged, as widely expected.

The ECB's accompanying statement removed a phrase indicating a willingness to increase its asset purchase program if necessary.

Sector News

Most of the major sectors are showing only modest moves on the day, contributing to the lackluster performance by the broader markets.

Steel stocks are seeing considerable weakness, however, with the NYSE Arca Steel Index slumping by 2.1 percent. The index is on pace to end the session at its lowest closing level in almost a month.

Banking and telecom stocks have also moved to the downside on the day, while some strength is visible among pharmaceutical and tobacco stocks.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved mostly higher during trading on Thursday. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index climbed by 0.5 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index surged up by 1.5 percent.

The major European markets also moved to the upside on the day. While the French CAC 40 Index jumped by 1.3 percent, the German DAX Index advanced by 0.9 percent and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index rose by 0.6 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries have moved higher after closing roughly flat for two consecutive sessions. As a result, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, is down by 3.1 basis points at 2.852 percent.

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