NEW YORK — Blue-chip stocks closed slightly lower Thursday, as investors' hesitancy ahead of the Federal Reserve's meeting next week overshadowed a drop in weekly jobless claims.
The Dow Jones industrial average, which dropped more than 70 points at one point, ended down 12.33 points, or 0.1 percent, at 11,113.95, its second straight day of declines.
The S&P 500 added 1.33 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,183.74, led by gains in health care and consumer shares.
The Nasdaq rose 4.11 points to 2,507.37.
3M was the Dow's worst performer, falling 5.9 percent after the consumer and industrial manufacturer narrowed its 2010 profit target because of acquisitions made in recent months.
Also weighing on the Dow were Caterpillar, which fell 0.6 percent, and Verizon Communications, off 0.3 percent.
Exxon Mobil was one of the Dow's best performers, gaining 0.8 percent after its third-quarter earnings rose a bigger-than-expected 55 percent. The oil giant benefited from stronger commodities prices and refining margins in the first full quarter that included its June acquisition of natural-gas producer XTO Energy.
"There's an old statement that 'all great climbers must rest,' " said Todd Morgan, senior managing director at Bel Air Investment Advisors. "This market needs to digest the terrific rise it's had over the last month and a half. This is healthy. Nothing goes straight up forever."
The market's mixed day follows a jittery trading session on Wednesday in which the Dow fell 43 points. Stocks have surged over the last few months, but investors are starting to fret over the scope and potential for another round of quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve. The central bank is expected to announce another round of bond buying at its key meeting next week.
"It feels like the market's struggling to maintain its momentum," said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank. He added that investors appear to be re-evaluating the affect that another round of quantitative easing, known as QE2, will have on the overall economy.
" (Investors) have been inclined to look at the positive side of QE2, but with businesses unwilling to borrow and other problems in the system that have led to lower lending, the Fed may be largely pushing on a string."
Thursday's losses also occurred despite a better-than-expected reading on the labor market. Initial unemployment claims declined by 21,000, to 434,000, in the week ended Oct. 23, the Labor Department said in its weekly report Thursday. That brings claims down to levels last seen the week ended July 10. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected initial claims to fall to a seasonally adjusted 450,000.
Among companies reporting earnings, Dow Chemical shares fell 1.1 percent after the company reported a 25 percent drop in third-quarter profit because of the impact from divestitures.
Eastman Kodak's third-quarter loss narrowed on fewer charges and much higher margins. The camera maker's results topped Wall Street's expectations, and shares surged 15.4 percent.
Las Vegas Sands swung to a third-quarter profit on record revenue resulting from strong growth at its casinos in the China gambling enclave of Macau and the first full quarter of operations at its Singapore casino. Shares jumped 8.7 percent.