NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. stocks are drifting in mixed trading on Thursday, as Wall Street's tug of war continues between worries about the worsening pandemic in the present and optimism that a vaccine will come in the future.
The S&P 500 was 0.1% lower at 3,564 in early trading after erasing most of an initial loss of 0.7%. It follows up on a 1.2% slide from the day before, as the benchmark index edges further away from its record of 3,626.91 set on Monday.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 60 points, or 0.2%, at 29,378, as of 10:03 a.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was 0.3% higher.
Wall Street's huge November rally has slowed this week as fears about the economy buckling in the near term wash over hopes that stronger growth will arrive next year. A discouraging report on Thursday underscored the fears, showing that more U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits last week than the week before. It was a worse number than economists expected and the first increase in five weeks.
With infections and hospitalizations on the rise across much of the country, governors and mayors are grudgingly issuing mask mandates, limiting the size of gatherings, banning indoor restaurant dining, closing gyms and restricting the hours and capacity of other businesses.
Investors worry the moves and worsening pandemic will hurt corporate profits and shake confidence among consumers, keeping them hunkered at home. New York City's announcement that it's halting in-person learning at public schools helped send stocks on their late-day slide Wednesday.
Democrats and Republicans are still stymied in their attempts to deliver another dose of financial support to workers and businesses, meanwhile. That has the specter of a bleak winter looming for both the health care system and economy.
Counterbalancing all those fears is hope that coming vaccines can control the pandemic and can get the global economy back toward normal next year.
University of Oxford scientists expect to report results from the late-stage trials of their COVID-19 vaccine by Christmas, a key researcher said Thursday.
Already this month, pharmaceutical companies have offered data suggesting a pair of vaccines under development could be highly effective. Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday they plan to ask U.S. regulators within days to allow emergency use of the vaccine.
That had led to an earlier resurgence of interest for stocks that stand to gain the most from a healthy, reopening economy. These were also among the stocks most beaten down by the stay-at-home economy created by the pandemic, such as travel-related businesses, banks and smaller companies.
The majority of stocks in the S&P 500 were lower in early Thursday trading. But smaller stocks were holding up better, with the Russell 2000 index of small caps up 0.3%.
European stock markets were weaker, with the French CAC 40 down 0.6% and Germany's DAX losing 0.6%. The FTSE 100 in London sdropped 0.8%.
In Asia, markets were mixed. Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 0.4%, Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.7% and South Korea's Kospi inched up by 0.1%. Stocks in Shanghai added 0.5%.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury dipped to 0.85% from 0.86% late Wednesday.