Stocks meander as investors look toward Europe

Associated Press

The U.S. stock market drifted in morning Thursday trading, a day after closing at a record high. In Europe, markets climbed when the head of the European Central Bank said he was ready to take more steps to revive the region’s struggling economy.

Keeping score: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index edged up one point, a fraction of a percent, to 2,025 as of 11:20 a.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 37 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,525. The Nasdaq composite gained six points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,627.

Careful now: JJ Kinahan, TD Ameritrade’s chief strategist, said it’s understandable for traders to turn cautious a day after the stock market reached a record. It’s also one day before the government’s monthly employment survey, a key economic report that can jolt markets.

“We’re coming off all-time highs yesterday, and that always makes people a little bit nervous,” he said. “I also think we’re seeing a tone of caution ahead of the jobs report, just in case.”

Big gainers: Whole Foods Market jumped 10 percent, the most in the S&P 500 index, after reporting earnings late Wednesday that came in well ahead of what investors were expecting. Whole Foods gained $4.18 to $44.17.

Quarterly score sheet: Better earnings from big companies have helped push the market higher over recent weeks. With more than eight out of 10 companies in the S&P 500 having turned in results, third-quarter earnings are on track to rise nearly 9 percent, according to S&P Capital IQ. Before results began to roll in, analysts were looking for earnings to rise 6 percent. Sales are another story. Third-quarter revenue is on pace to rise just 3 percent.

Draghi, center stage: Mario Draghi said the ECB would engage in further unconventional stimulus measures, such as large-scale bond purchases to pump newly created money into the economy, “if needed.” The ECB has come under increasing pressure to provide more support to help shore up the European recovery and prevent prices from falling. Draghi spoke following the ECB’s decision to keep its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 0.05 percent.

Analyst’s take: “Draghi has a tendency to cause hysteria in the markets even when he potentially doesn’t mean to,” said Craig Erlam, market analyst at Alpari. “It only takes the slightest suggestion that further easing is likely, or that (bond-buying) is a possibility, and the markets go wild.”

Europe: From being largely flat, European stock markets turned higher after Draghi’s talk. Germany’s DAX was up 0.7 percent, while the CAC-40 in France rose 0.5 percent. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares picked up 0.1 percent.

Euro: Draghi’s comments knocked the euro lower. The currency fell from $1.2520 before he took to the stage to $1.2394.

Asia’s day: Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average erased gains to end down 0.9 percent, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 0.2 percent. South Korea’s Kospi added 0.3 percent, and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 dropped 0.2 percent.

Energy: Crude oil fell 84 cents to $77.81 a barrel in New York.