US stocks end flat ahead of January jobs data

File photo of traders working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Wall Street stocks finished little changed on Thursday (Feb 2) in cautious trading ahead of key US jobs data.
File photo of traders working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Wall Street stocks finished little changed on Thursday (Feb 2) in cautious trading ahead of key US jobs data.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Wall Street stocks finished little changed on Thursday (Feb 2) in cautious trading ahead of key US jobs data.

The monthly US employment report was expected to show the economy added 170,000 jobs in January, with the unemployment steady at 4.7 per cent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at 19,884.98, down less than 0.1 per cent.

The broad-based S&P 500 rose 0.1 percent to 2,280.85, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index lost 0.1 percent at 5,637.20.

Analysts said investors remain anxious about the emerging policies of the Trump administration following a series of controversies, most recently over a contentious phone call between Trump and Malcolm Turnbull, prime minister of Australia, a close US ally.

"Investors are kind of reappraising the whole package," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank.

"It isn't just going to be domestic policy and stimulus. There are some global risks along with this Trump team."

Dow member Merck jumped 3.4 percent after fourth-quarter net income surged 20.6 percent to US$1.2 billion (S$1.7 billion), thanks in part to strong gains in sales of cancer drug Keytruda.

Costco Wholesale advanced 3.9 percent after reporting that January sales came in at US$9.1 billion, up nine percent from the year-ago period. Rival Wal-Mart Stores advanced 0.7 percent.

Ralph Lauren Corp. slumped 12.3 percent as it announced chief executive Stefan Larsson will step down after barely a year due to creative disagreements with company founder Lauren.