(CNBC): U.S. stocks closed near the flatline on Thursday as investors looked ahead to a key employment report.
"I think a large part of it is a good jobless claims number, which certainly gives more weight to tomorrow's jobs report," said Eric Wiegand, senior portfolio manager at the Private Client Reserve at U.S. Bank.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed about 10 points lower, with Wal-Mart and American Express contributing the most losses. The S&P 500 closed just above the flatline, with materials leading advancers and health care the top decliner. The Nasdaq composite dropped 0.17 percent, as the iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB) fell more than 2 percent.
The three major indexes had traded further below the flatline earlier in the session, with the Dow falling 118.06 points at session lows.
The Labor Department is scheduled to release its September jobs report on Friday, with economists polled by Reuters expecting the U.S. economy to have added 175,000 jobs and unemployment holding steady at 4.9 percent.
"The market is processing the likelihood of a Fed rate hike. If you look at the yield curve, it's higher. I think investors looking for yield are reconsidering some of their holdings," said Kim Forrest, senior equity analyst at Fort Pitt Capital.