US stocks end flat ahead of jobs report

NEW YORK (AFP) - Wall Street equities finished little changed Thursday as investors took stock of mixed US economic data and awaited Friday's US jobs report.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 12.69 points (0.08 per cent) at 16,272.01.

The broad-based S&P 500 rose 3.79 (0.2 per cent) to 1,923.82, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 6.92 (0.15 per cent) to 4,627.08.

Stocks spent much of the day in the red, but the S&P 500 and Nasdaq managed to push back into positive territory late in the session.

A reading on US manufacturing activity showed near-flat activity in September, while construction spending rose to a seven-year high in August.

Analysts expect Friday's jobs report will show the US economy added 205,000 jobs in September and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.1 per cent, a seven-year low.

Pharmaceutical stocks continued to rally, with Allergan rising 3.9 per cent, Dow member Pfizer 1.4 per cent and Celgene 4.3 per cent.

General Motors rose 2.2 per cent and Ford 0.7 per cent after both companies reported September auto sales that bested expectations.

Amazon rose 1.7 per cent after announcing a new venture with CBS to make Amazon the exclusive subscription service provider for three new CBS series. CBS dropped 1.1 per cent.

Food giant ConAgra added 1 per cent on news it will cut 1,500 jobs and relocate its headquarters from Omaha, Nebraska, to Chicago.

Spicemaker McCormick fell 4.3 per cent as third-quarter net income tumbled 20.6 per cent to US$97.6 million (S$139 million).

Dunkin' Brands Group, parent of baked goods and coffee chain Dunkin' Donuts, slumped 12.2 per cent after estimating 2015 comparable sales growth at 1-3 per cent at US Dunkin' Donuts restaurants. Barclays had projected an increase of 3-4 per cent.

Illumina, which develops technology for genetic testing, fell 10.6 per cent following a downgrade from Leerink Partners.

The flat session on Wall Street came a day after the stock markets closed a dismal third quarter on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 losing 6.9 per cent to register its worst three-month stretch in four years.

Bond prices were unchanged from Wednesday. The yield on the 10-year US Treasury was 2.04 per cent, while the 30-year was at 2.86 per cent. Bond prices and yields move inversely.