U.S. Stocks Little Changed
Chevron Corp. slid 2 percent as the energy company said fourth-quarter profit was “significantly below” third-quarter results. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

U.S. stocks retreated, snapping a three-day rally for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, as a higher-than-forecast increase in jobless claims overshadowed easing concern about Europe’s debt crisis.

Chevron Corp. retreated 2.1 percent as the energy company said fourth-quarter profit was “significantly below” third- quarter results.Sears Holdings (SHLD) Corp. declined 4.9 percent after vendor loans are said to be halted by CIT Group Inc. Target Corp. (TGT) advanced 0.2 percent after the discount retailer said it will buy back as much as $5 billion of its shares.

The S&P 500 fell 0.2 percent to 1,289.34 at 10:14 a.m. New York time. The benchmark gauge for American equities rose 1.2 percent over the previous three days. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 39.28 points, or 0.3 percent, 12,410.17.

“There are significant cross currents,” Michael Mullaney, who helps manage $9.5 billion at Fiduciary Trust in Boston, said in a telephone interview. “Lower borrowing costs will help in the refinancing that’s due in the next few months in the euroland in general. Still, they’ve got to spur growth to get things going. In the U.S., today’s economic numbers were weaker than anticipated. The market has had a nice run here. Sentiment has gotten more bullish, which makes me nervous.”

Stocks swung between gains and losses as data showed that sales at U.S. retailers in December rose less than forecast, restrained by cheaper fuel prices and holiday discounting that helped hold down the value of goods sold. More Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, raising the possibility that a greater-than-usual increase in temporary holiday hiring boosted December payrolls.

Debt Auctions

Global stocks rose as Spain sold 10 billion euros ($13 billion) of bonds, twice the target for the sale, while Italy sold 12 billion euros of bills, easing concerns the countries would struggle to finance their debts. The European Central Bank (EURR002W) held interest rates steady after two straight cuts as signs of respite from the sovereign debt crisis gave it scope to pause.

Most (.ADLR) U.S. stocks advanced yesterday as a rally in banks helped the market recover from an early slump spurred by growing signs Europe may slip into a recession. The S&P 500has risen 2.8 percent in 2012 through yesterday as commodity, financial and industrial companies had the biggest gains among 10 groups.

Energy shares had the biggest decline in the S&P 500 among 10 groups even as oil rose.Chevron (CVX) dropped 2.1 percent to $105.46. Maintenance work at a California refinery and the sale of a U.K. plant curbed fuel output. Profit from the company’s oil and natural-gas wells was comparable with third-quarter performance, the San Ramon, California-based company said. Chevron’s refining business was “near break even,” according to the statement.

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