NEW YORK (AP) -- A late turn gave the stock market a meagre gain to start the month Thursday, a day after it finished its worst quarter in four years.
Investors were looking ahead to Friday when the government releases its monthly jobs report. Economists forecast that employers added 200,000 workers to their payrolls last month. Strong hiring would likely raise expectations that the Federal Reserve will increase its benchmark interest rate at its next meeting later this month.
If the jobs report were to show a gain of more than 200,000, people will start wondering about the Fed's next move, said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at the Commonwealth Financial Network. "That could mean we're in for another big drop," he said.
Mounting concerns about slowing global economic growth and the timing of the Fed's first interest-rate hike in nearly a decade battered markets over recent months.
Without any big developments to drive the action on Thursday, trading appeared aimless. The Standard & Poor's 500 index took a sharp fall in the morning, languished throughout the afternoon then climbed back to finish the day with a slight gain.
The S&P 500 added 3.79 points, or 0.2 percent, to close at 1,923.82.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 12.69 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,272.01 and the Nasdaq composite gained 6.92 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,627.08.
On Wednesday, the S&P 500, the most widely used measure of U.S. investments, closed out the quarter with a 7.4 percent loss.
"It has been a painful experience, but that's what creates opportunities," said Tom Dinegan, an equity strategist at UBS Wealth Management. "There's more panic in the market than there is in the economy."
Among companies in the news, Dunkin' Brands plunged 12 percent after the company's revenue estimates fell short of analysts' forecasts. Dunkin' Brands dropped $6 to an even $43.
Twitter lost 8.4 percent amid reports that the social-media company will name co-founder Jack Dorsey as CEO for a second time. Its stock sank $2.26 to $24.68.
In Europe, Germany's DAX fell 1.6 percent, and France's CAC-40 fell 0.7 percent. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares edged up 0.2.
There was some encouraging news out of China where an official measure of manufacturing rose in September, up from its lowest level in three years.
Elsewhere in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 jumped 1.9 percent, South Korea's Kospi rose 0.8 percent, and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 advanced 1.8 percent.
Prices for U.S. government bonds edged up, nudging the yield down to 2.04 percent from 2.05 percent late Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.1188 while the dollar dipped to 119.90 yen.
Precious and industrial metals settled with small losses. Gold dropped $1.50 to finish at $1,113.70 an ounce, and silver slipped a penny to $14.51 an ounce. Copper lost 4 cents to $2.30 per pound.
The price of oil fell Thursday on weakness in U.S. manufacturing, which could lead to lower demand for crude. The Institute for Supply Management said Thursday that U.S. manufacturers expanded at their slowest pace in two years last month, held back by faltering global growth.
The price of crude oil fell 35 cents to close at $44.74 a barrel in New York. Brent Crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 68 cents to close at $47.69 in London.
In other futures trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange:
--- Wholesale gasoline remained unchanged at $1.367 a gallon.
--- Heating oil fell 1.7 cents to close at $1.520 a gallon.
--- Natural gas fell 9.1 cents to close at $2.433 per 1,000 cubic feet, its lowest level since the summer of 2012, on high supplies.