NEW YORK, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. stocks closed lower on Thursday, giving up all the early gains despite generally upbeat economic data, but still ended February in positive territory.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 20.88 points, or 0.15 percent, to 14,054.49. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock Index inched down 1.31 points, or 0.09 percent, to 1,514.68. The Nasdaq Composite Index dipped 2.07 points, or 0.07 percent, to 3,160.19.
For the month, the Dow gained 1.4 percent, the S&P 500 edged up 1.1 percent, and the Nasdaq advanced 0.6 percent.
The main stock indices responded positively to encouraging economic data released on Thursday after the opening bell.
Real gross domestic product of the United States increased at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to the second estimate released on Thursday by the Commerce Department. However, the upwardly-revised reading still fell short of market expectations.
The number of Americans filing initial jobless claims last week stood at 344,000, down 22,000 from the previous week's revised figure, the U.S. Labor Department said on Thursday. The four-week moving average was 355,000, a decrease of 6,750 from the previous week.
The Chicago Purchasing Manager Index in February rose for a second month, up 1.2 points to 56.8, the highest level since last March, according to the ISM-Chicago Business Survey released on Thursday. The index beat analysts' estimates.
The so-called sequester, or across-the-board automatic spending cuts for the U.S. federal government, is set to take effect on March 1. Though it is widely seen as a headwind for the world's largest economy, investors didn't seem much bothered.
"On the one hand, the sequester totaling 85 billion dollars is really a small part compared to the huge federal spending. On the other hand, the market recognizes that the U.S. government and Congress tend to make a compromise in the last minute just as they did in the fiscal negotiations in December," Joseph C. Greco, managing director-trading & sales of Meridian Equity Partners based in New York, told Xinhua Thursday on the phone.
Wall Street tumbled all of a sudden in the last half hour of the Thursday session, while the Dow was just about 40 points from its record high.
Greco said that he was sure the stock market would go through all-time highs in the near term before an 8-to-10 percent correction.
In corporate news, J.C. Penney shares plunged 16.97 percent to 17.57 dollars. The department store reported massive losses for its fiscal fourth quarter after Wednesday's closing bell.
Shares of Groupon also plummeted 24.28 percent to 4.53 dollars, one day after the Internet information provider posted disappointing fourth-quarter earnings.
Gap shares rose in after-hours trading as the apparel store chain posted better-than-expected earnings after the closing bell.
In the past two days, the main stock indices moved closer to their all-time highs, as U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke reaffirmed in his two-day Capitol Hill testimony that the central bank's massive bond-purchasing programs were needed to boost a still-weak economy, and have helped create jobs for average Americans.
The U.S. dollar advanced against most major currencies on Thursday, bolstered by the positive economic data.
Light, sweet crude for April delivery lost 71 cents, or 0.77 percent, to settle at 92.05 dollars a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Thursday. Brent crude for April delivery also decreased 49 cents, or 0.4 percent, to close at 111.38 dollars a barrel.
Gold future for April delivery on the COMEX division of the New York Mercantile Exchange on Thursday lost 17.6 dollars, or 1.1 percent, to settle at 1,578.1 dollars per ounce mainly due to the stronger dollar.