US stocks struggled for direction early Thursday. A batch of bright earnings reports sent some stocks higher, but the gains were checked by disappointing unemployment claims, a broad decline across European markets and losses at some well-known companies.
The Dow Jones industrial average waffled between small rises and losses. It was up eight points at 13,098 minutes after the opening bell. The Standard & Poor's 500 was up one point at 1,392. The Nasdaq composite index, still riding momentum from Apple's strong quarterly earnings this week, rose four to 3,037.
Strong profit reports at a few companies pushed some stocks higher. Equifax, the credit monitoring company, shot up 6 percent. Electronic Arts, the company behind video games like SimCity, rose nearly 4 percent.
For those looking for bad news, there was plenty to be found.
Several big-name companies fell after reporting first-quarter earnings. Aetna, the health insurer, was one of the biggest losers in the morning. It plummeted 10 percent after reporting that it is paying more in medical claims.
Earnings at other companies underscored concerns that Europe's debt crisis will ripple to the US Dow Chemical, the nation's largest chemical maker, fell 4 percent because as it restructures its international business to minimize the damage in Europe. UPS, the package delivery company, fell 3 percent as growth in international revenue cooled.
In Europe, most markets slipped following disappointing results from several major companies including Banco Santander and Deutsche Bank.
The banks are a proxy for broader concerns about Europe. Analysts worry that Spain might join Greece, Ireland and Portugal in asking for a bailout. Even in Germany, one of the most stable of the 17 countries that use the euro, the pressure of the debt crisis has made bank customers reluctant to trade and invest.
In the US, the government reported that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits was little changed last week, stoking more uncertainty about when and if companies will return to pre-recession levels of hiring. - Sapa-AP