North American stocks were little changed in midday trading on Thursday, after investors weighed an upbeat report on U.S. jobless claims against no signs of progress in budget negotiations.
The S&P 500 was up 2 points or 0.2 per cent, to 1412. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average was up 7 points or less than 0.1 per cent, to 13,042.
In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index was down 15 points or 0.1 per cent, to 12,143. But Loblaw Cos. was firmly in positive territory -- up a hefty 16 per cent to $39.06. It had been up close to 25 per cent at the start of trading after the grocer announced plans to create one of Canada's largest real estate investment trusts to unlock value for its shareholders. Investors clearly think the plan will work.
U.S. initial jobless claims fell to 370,000 for the period ended last week, down from 395,000 in the previous week and better than expectations, suggesting that the hurricane-related gains are now subsiding.
The European Central Bank left its key interest rate unchanged, at 0.75 per cent, but cut the region's growth and inflation forecasts. The ECB believes the euro zone will not escape its economic slump until the second half of 2013, raising the prospect of rate cuts ahead.
In Europe, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 rose 0.2 per cent and Germany's DAX index rose 1.1 per cent.
Within the S&P 500, technology stocks rose 1 per cent, consumer discretionary stocks rose 0.5 per cent and consumer staples rose 0.2 per cent. Utilities fell 0.2 per cent and industrials fell 0.3 per cent.
Apple Inc. halted its slump, rising 2.5 per cent after falling 6.4 per cent on Wednesday. The company's chief executive hinted that Apple was preparing to launch its own television.
In Canada, financials were the biggest laggards, falling 0.6 per cent. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce fell 0.6 per cent after reporting a 13 per cent gain in its fourth quarter earnings but a 1.1 per cent decline in revenues. Toronto-Dominion Bank fell 1.9 per cent after it reported a 0.5 per cent increase in its earnings.
Meanwhile, energy stocks fell 0.2 per cent and materials rose 0.6 per cent.
Among commodities, crude oil fell to $86.58 (U.S.) a barrel, down $1.30. Gold rose to $1,697 an ounce, up $3.