US stocks drift for a second day; Retailers sink

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks wavered in early afternoon trading Thursday as traders reacted to disappointing news out of the retail industry. If the Standard & Poor's 500 index ends the day down it would be its fifth decline of the six trading days so far in 2014.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average lost 5 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 16,456 as of 1:10 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow had been down as much as 84 points earlier in the day. The S&P 500 was little changed at 1,836 and the Nasdaq composite lost six points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,159.

MACY'S CUTS: Macy's rose $3.93, or 8 percent, to $55.77 after the company said it would eliminate 2,500 jobs as part of a reorganization that the company said will save it $100 million a year. The company also forecast a 2014 profit that was above Wall Street's forecasts.

TROUBLE IN RETAIL: Bed Bath & Beyond plunged $10.20, or 13 percent, to $69.46 and Family Dollar fell $3.09, or 5 percent, to $63.24 after cutting their earnings forecasts following a disappointing holiday season. Bed Bath & Beyond and Family Dollar were the biggest decliners in the S&P 500.

WHERE'S THE SPENDING? "The consumers are supposed to be the fuel of this economy, and it doesn't appear to be happening," said Ian Winer, director of trading for Wedbush Securities. "If they're not spending money at the retailers, what's going on?"

THE ECONOMY: The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell by 15,000 last week to 330,000. The drop was slightly bigger than economists predicted, according to FactSet. The claims report sets the stage for the government jobs report for December. Economists expect employers added 196,000 jobs last month.

FORD DIVIDEND: Ford rose 37 cents, or 2 percent, to $15.90 after the company announced it was increasing its quarterly dividend to 12.5 cents per share, up from 10 cents per share. The increase comes a day after the stock gained 1 percent on news that Alan Mulally would stay on as CEO and not leave to run Microsoft.

EARNINGS SEASON: Thursday marks the beginning of third-quarter earnings releases for U.S. companies. Alcoa, an aluminum maker and former Dow component, will report its earnings after the closing bell. Alcoa was already in the news earlier Thursday, falling 19 cents, or 2 percent, to $10.66 on word that an Alcoa subsidiary will plead guilty and pay $384 million for paying bribes to the Middle Eastern Kingdom of Bahrain.