The Dow industrials erased earlier losses as investors balanced downbeat readings on the labor market and Chicago-area business activity with a report on plans for a rescue plan for Spain.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 24 points, or 0.2%, to 12443 in early-afternoon trading. The blue-chip benchmark, down 6% this month through Wednesday's close, was on pace to post its biggest percent decline since September.
Standard & Poor's 500-stock index dropped 2 points, or 0.1%, to 1312. Materials and energy stocks led declines in the index. The Nasdaq Composite fell 10 points, or 0.4%, to 2827.
The International Monetary Fund has started discussing contingency plans for a rescue loan to Spain in the event the country fails to find the funds needed to bail out Bankia SA, Dow Jones Newswires reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The report eased concerns about the fallout from troubles at Bankia, Spain's third-largest bank by assets, fueling a midday recovery in U.S. stocks.
"The subsequent release of the IMF story on the Spanish contingency plan fueled the up-move" as pressure on stocks eased with the close of European markets, said Tom Donino, co-head of trading at First New York Securities.
The report followed downbeat data on the domestic job market. The U.S. economy added 133,000 private-sector jobs in May, according to a report by Automatic Data Processing and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers, fewer than the 150,000 forecast by economists in a Dow Jones Newswires poll. The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for unemployment benefits also rose more than expected last week, the Labor Department reported.
Meanwhile, a reading on manufacturing activity in the Chicago region fell more than economists expected, to the lowest level since September 2009.
"It's just an awful close to an awful month," said Mark Lehmann, president of JMP Securities. "You just got more of the same, unfortunately, which is softer data, soft markets, commodities weaker."
"You're probably in store for more of this, more malaise as opposed to recovery," he said. "We've--for the first time in a long time--been seeing 'recession' in the lexicon."
Also Thursday, the Commerce Department lowered its estimate for first-quarter U.S. economic growth to 1.9% from 2.2%, in line with economists' expectation that the U.S. economy slowed more than initial thought during the period. The price index for personal consumption increased 2.4%, as previously estimated.
The downbeat data come on the eve of the government's closely watched employment report Friday, which has fallen short of expectations the last two months. Economists predict jobs outside of agriculture grew by 150,000 in May.
Germany's jobless rate fell to 6.7% in May, the lowest level since comparable records began in 1998, and better than economists' prediction for a 6.8% rate. Meanwhile, German retail sales rose 0.6% in April, beating expectations of a 0.1% gain.
In addition, the inflation rate for the euro zone slowed to 2.4% in May from 2.6% in April, less than expectations of 2.5%. Slowing inflation gave hope that the European Central Bank would be more willing to provide additional stimulus measures.
European markets fell, erasing earlier gains after the downbeat U.S. data. The Stoxx Europe 600 slid 0.4% after slumping 1.5% on Wednesday.
Asian markets fell on the back of U.S. stock-market declines on Wednesday and disappointing Japanese industrial-production data. Japan's Nikkei Stock Average fell 1.1% and China's Shanghai Composite declined 0.5%.
Shares of Facebook fell 4%, extending the decline from their $38 initial public offering price.
Joy Global skidded 4.7% as the mining-equipment maker lowered its full-year guidance on a slowing international market, both in Europe and in China.
Ciena rallied 11% after the network-gear maker reported a fiscal second-quarter adjusted profit, compared with analyst expectations of a slight loss, and revenue that topped forecasts.
F5 Networks, a supplier of gear for managing Internet traffic, slid 3.9% after its sales chief resigned.
TiVo sagged 7.1% after the maker of digital television recorders posted a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss and gave a downbeat outlook.
-By Matt Jarzemsky, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2240; email@example.com