NEW YORK, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) -- U.S. stocks ended nearly flat Thursday as eurozone and Japan's economic contraction in the fourth quarter offset positive data of jobless claims in the United States.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged down 9.37 points, or 0.07 percent, to 13,973.54. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock Index went up 1.05 points, also 0.07 percent, to 1,521.38. The Nasdaq Composite index gained 1.78 points, or 0.06 percent, to 3,198.66.
The number of Americans for initial jobless benefit claims in the last week dropped by 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 341,000, pointing to sustained recovery in the employment market, the Labor Department data showed on Thursday.
Despite improved employment in the United States, the main stock indices were dampened by contraction in the euro zone and Japan in the fourth quarter of last year.
According to Eurostat, gross domestic product (GDP) in the euro zone in the last three months of 2012 shrank 0.6 percent from the preceding quarter, the steepest contraction since the first quarter of 2009. In Germany and France, the two largest economies of the 17-nation bloc, GDP data were also worse than expected in the fourth quarter.
Japan also reported a third consecutive quarterly recession in the fourth quarter, falling 0.1 percent from the third quarter, which is an annualized 0.4 percent drop.
The U.S. stock market has been weak since the beginning of February as investors remained cautious due to renewed European instabilities and the looming U.S. government automatic spending cuts that may drag down the U.S. economy by about 1 percent.
Senate Democrats reportedly unveiled a plan Thursday afternoon to avoid a cross-the-board budget sequester due to take effect on March 1. According to the plan, the 110-billion-dollar spending cuts for this year will be split evenly between getting new revenue from sources and slashing agricultural and defense spending.
But the proposal is expected to be opposed by the Republicans.
On individual companies, U.S. Airways shares tumbled 4.57 percent to 13.99 dollars after the air carrier and AMR Corporation, the parent company of American Airlines, announced Thursday that the boards of directors of both companies had unanimously approved a definitive merger agreement under which the companies would combine to create a premier global carrier.
H.J. Heinz shares surged 19.87 percent to 72.50 dollars after the food giant said Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital would buy the company at a value of 28 billion dollars.
Shares of General Motors slip 3.21 percent to 27.75 dollars after the auto giant said its profit in 2012 fell mainly due to losses in Europe.
Cisco shares also dropped 0.71 percent to 20.99 dollars though the world's largest maker of computer networking equipment beat market on its latest quarterly earnings.
On other markets, crude oil prices bounced back into positive territory, holding above 97 dollars on the better-than-expected jobless claims data and failed talks between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency on Tehran's recent round of nuclear program.
Light, sweet crude for March delivery gained 30 cents, or 0.31 percent to settle at 97.31 U.S. dollars a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Brent crude for April delivery also advanced and last traded above 118 dollars a barrel.
The U.S. dollar traded mixed against major currencies. It rose sharply against the euro after reports on eurozone recession. In late New York trading, the euro slipped to 1.3347 dollars from 1.3449 dollars of the previous session and the British pound climbed to 1.5484 from 1.5442 dollars.
The dollar jumped to 0.9228 Swiss francs from 0.9157 and went down to 1.0014 Canadian dollars from 1.0019. The dollar bought 93.02 Japanese yen, lower than 93.47 in the previous session.