Wall Street opens flat as turbulent quarter winds down

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Wall Street made a quiet start to the last day of a turbulent quarter in which financial markets were roiled by concerns about the global economy and a steep slide in oil prices.

Investors held off on making big bets ahead of the critical U.S. non-farm payrolls report due on Friday. Crude oil rose slightly, hovering near US$40 a barrel.

Data on Thursday showed U.S. jobless claims rose unexpectedly to 276,000 last week, falling short of the 265,000 estimated. Claims still remain well below the 300,000 mark denoting a healthy labour market.

Friday's report will give investors a clearer reading on the state of the economy. "Today, we're just in a do-nothing mode and we will wait and see what happens Friday," said Matthew Tuttle, chief executive, Tuttle Tactical Management in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Mr Tuttle said he expects trading to be muted as investors brace for an increase in volatility on Friday after the release of the jobs report. "There's going to be a big move one way or the other (on Friday), you don't know which way it's going to go and you don't want to put on large bets right before that."

At 9.38am ET (9.38pm Singapore time), the Dow Jones industrial average was up 20.28 points, or 0.11 per cent, at 17,736.94, the S&P 500 was down 0.02 points, or -0 per cent, at 2,063.93 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 0.72 points, or 0.01 per cent, at 4,868.57.

The 10 major S&P sectors teetered between gains and losses with no clear leaders driving stocks either way.

Investors' nerves were soothed this week by US Federal Reserve Chief Janet Yellen's comments that the central bank should be cautious with raising interest rates.