NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks are drifting on Wall Street Thursday after a report showed fewer workers are getting laid off across the country, though a slowing pace of improvement is holding back the optimism.
The S&P 500 was virtually flat after flipping between small gains and losses in the first 30 minutes of trading. Treasury yields were also holding relatively steady, while the price of gold hung close to its highest level since 2011 in a sign of continued caution in the market.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 95 points, or 0.4%, at 25,971. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.7% as big technology stocks continue to cruise on bets that they can keep growing almost regardless of the economy's strength.
If the S&P 500 ends up higher, it would be the seventh gain for the index in the last eight days. Some of its recent gains have come only after wobbly trading, though, where the index drifted up and down several times through the day. The erratic trading mirrors the market's movement's over much of the last month, as investors struggle through massive amounts of uncertainty.
The number of layoffs sweeping the country is still astoundingly high, with 1.3 million workers filing for unemployment claims last week. But that's down from 1.4 million the prior week and from a peak of nearly 6.9 million in late March.
The improvements back up investor optimism that the economy can recover as states and other governments relax restrictions put in place earlier this year to slow the coronavirus pandemic. Such optimism has helped the S&P 500 climb back to within 6.5% of its record set in February, after earlier being down nearly 34%.
But economists point to a troubling slowdown in the pace of improvements. They're also worried that worsening infection levels across swaths of the U.S. South and West could derail the budding recovery.
Such concerns helped the price of gold hold above $1,800 per ounce. Gold tends to rise when investors are worried about the economy, and on Wednesday it touched its highest price since September 2011, which was shortly after it set its record. Gold slipped 0.1% to $1,819.40 in Thursday morning trading.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which tends to move with investors' expectations for the economy and inflation, ticked down to 0.64% from 0.65% late Wednesday.
In European stock markets, Germany's DAX returned 1.3%, while France's CAC 40 added 0.1%. The FTSE 100 in London slipped 0.5% after the Treasury chief warned about the depth of the recession there and more big retailers said they had to cut jobs.
In Asia, Chinese stocks continued their huge run. Stocks in Shanghai added another 1.4%, bringing its gain for July to 15.6% and further stoking worries that speculators are in charge of the market.
The Nikkei 225 in Tokyo added 0.4%, as did South Korea's Kospi. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong gained 0.3%.
Benchmark U.S. crude dipped 1% to $40.49 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, slipped 0.4% to $43.13 per barrel.