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Stocks Manage Mixed Close After Lackluster Jobs, GDP Data

Tickers in this article: ^DJI ^GSPC RHT BBY ^IXIC

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stocks closed Thursday's trading session mixed amid weak European markets and a weekly initial jobless claims miss.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 19.6 points, or 0.2%, at 13,146. The S&P 500 lost 2.3 points, or 0.2%, at 1403. The Nasdaq shed 9.6 points, or 0.3%, at 3095.

The Department of Labor reported that weekly initial jobless claims ended March 24 fell by 5,000 to 359,000 from the prior week's revised level of 364,000. The latest update was disappointing because economists were expecting 350,000 claims, according to Thomson Reuters , after an original reading of 348,000 last week.

RDQ Economics , however, noted that the four-week average of claims fell 3,500 to 365,000, which the firm said was the lowest level for the four-week average since May 2008.

"The new seasonal adjustment factors have revised up the level of jobless claims in the first quarter of 2012 but they have not revised away the essential message of the report--the labor market and job creation appears to have strengthened significantly in the first quarter of the year," the firm said in commentary on Thursday. "The indications from jobless claims, consumers' attitudes toward the labor market, and regional manufacturing indicators from the New York Fed and Philadelphia Fed are that March will likely be the fourth consecutive month in which nonfarm payroll growth exceeds 200,000."

A report on economic growth came in line with expectations. The government's third read on GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2011 was unrevised at 3%. This is up from 1.8% annualized growth rate in the third quarter, although still worrisome given that growth is expected to pull back going into the first quarter of 2012.

"The pace of improvement is leveling out and while GDP was not revised the sub components were a bit better for the economy with better final sales and a downtick in the inventory contribution," said David Ader, strategist with CRT Capital.

"In the medium term, we might see more volatility," said Zahid Siddique, portfolio manager with Gabelli Equity Trust of GAMCO Investors. "Stocks have had a good run up... but some of the economic data is starting to show a deceleration in growth."

The U.S. market was following losses in Europe after the European Commission said an index of executive and consumer sentiment fell to a reading of 94.4 in March from a revised 94.5 in February.

With Greece's troubles largely falling out of the spotlight, investors have been keeping an eye on deficit problems in Portugal and Spain, were sovereign debt yields have climbed recently. On Friday, European governments meet in Copenhagen where they will aim to increase the rescue firewall in the region. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to allow the increase.