NEW YORK – Stocks ended mixed Thursday as crude oil futures briefly hit $55 a barrel and Apple Computer shares slipped 5 percent, offsetting strong retail sales data and higher worker productivity numbers.
The Dow Jones industrial average (search) was up 21.06 points, or 0.19 percent, to end at 10,833.03. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (search) was up just 0.39 of a point, or 0.03 percent, to finish at 1,210.47. The technology-laced Nasdaq Composite Index (search) was down 9.10 points, or 0.44 percent, to close at 2,058.40.
"The market is staying within a trading range," said Peter Cardillo, chief market analyst and chief strategist at SW Bach & Co. "The economic news today was good, and the market responded quite nicely to that. But it's also eyeing the oil price and that capped the market somewhat."
High oil prices weighed on Wall Street during the day's trading, as they increased concerns about consumer spending and corporate profits. Prices surged to four-month highs as investment fund buying and U.S. refinery outages extended the rally close to last year's all-time high.
But investors took some comfort that U.S. crude oil futures ended well below the day's peak of more than $55, as a Nigerian official said OPEC will discuss whether to raise supply because of high prices when the group next meets on March 16. NYMEX (search) crude for April delivery settled at $53.57 a barrel, up 52 cents.
Boeing's (BA) climb lifted the Dow, with the stock up $2.12 at $57.42, bolstered by optimism about strong demand for its commercial jets from airlines worldwide.
But the Nasdaq declined, weighed down by Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL), which fell 5.3 percent, or $2.33, to $41.79. Smaller rival Napster boosted its revenue outlook on its new music subscription service, suggesting Apple's iTunes could face growing competition. Napstes, to $7.27.
Earlier, a report showed U.S. business productivity rose at a brisk 2.1 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter -- more quickly than first thought -- and that helped stocks as it suggested that inflation in the longer term remains subdued.
In another report, the number of Americans filing initial jobless claims dipped last week to 310,000, suggesting continued improvement in the nation's labor market.
However, traders were looking ahead to the key U.S. jobs figure Friday. Some strategists think that a positive figure may provide the impetus to push the Dow and the S&P 500 to fresh highs. In addition, investors' mood was lifted Wednesday after remarks from Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan (search) that signaled no change in interest-rate policy.
"Greenspan's testimony indicated that things are status quo with a steady pattern of rate rises, and things also seem to be status quo as far the economic numbers go," said Stephen Carl, principal and head of U.S. equity trading at The Williams Capital Group LP.
Semiconductor-related stocks suffered after J.P. Morgan cut its first-quarter revenue estimate for Intel Corp. (INTC) by $100 million to $9.2 billion, saying that the semiconductor maker's revenue could be hurt by inadequate production. Intel fell almost 1 percent to $24.31 and wireless chip maker Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) fell 2.3 percent to $35.45.
Wal-Mart (WMT) rose 91 cents to $52.86 after it reported a 4.1 percent increase in sales at U.S. stores open at least a year in February, just above its forecast range and beating analysts' estimates.
Target Corp. (TGT) had its shares climb $63 cents to $52.50 and Talbots Inc. (TLB) was up 8 percent, or $2.36, at $31.73. Limited Brands Inc. (LTD ) disappointed the market however, and its shares slid 37 cents to $24.11.
Starbucks Corp.(SBUX ) was up about 2.5 percent at $54.13 a day after the coffee shop chain said sales at company-owned stores open at least 13 months rose 9 percent in the four weeks ended Feb. 27.
ChevronTexaco Corp. (CVX) was down 38 cents at $61.19 on news that it is considering making a bid for its smaller rival Unocal Corp., The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. Unocal surged 12.3 percent, or $6.60, to $60.10.
Overall, trading was active, with 1.62 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, above the 1.46 billion daily average for last year. About 1.91 billion shares were traded on Nasdaq, above the 1.81 billion daily average last year. Advancers outnumbered decliners on the New York Stock Exchange by 6 to 5, while decliners outnumbered advancers by 8 to 7 on Nasdaq.
The Russell 2000 index, which tracks smaller company stocks, was up 0.96, or 0.2 percent, at 638.29.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average added 0.36 percent. In Europe, France's CAC-40 shed 0.03 percent, Britain's FTSE 100 gained 0.44 percent and Germany's DAX index was down 0.46 percent.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.