NEW YORK - Stocks ended mixed Thursday in a light day of trading after reports showed small improvements in consumer spending and the job market.

The Commerce Department said consumer spending rose 0.4 percent in November from the month before. That was slightly below expectations of a 0.5 percent gain.

In a separate report, the Labor Department said the number of people applying for unemployment benefits for the first time dropped 3,000 last week to 420,000. That number is just low enough to indicate modest job growth.

"While you did not see a marked drop in the jobless numbers, there is a steady decline," said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist at Prudential Financial. "When you look at the four-week moving average, it suggests that we are starting to see a floor in initial unemployment claims."

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 14 points, or 0.12 percent, to close at 11,573.49. That is its highest close since Aug. 28, 2008. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 2.07, or 0.16 percent, to 1,256.77. The Nasdaq composite index fell 5.88, or 0.22 percent, to 2,665.60.

The three major indexes ended the shortened trading week higher. The Dow rose for the fourth straight week, inching up 0.7 percent. The S&P 500 rose 1 percent, and the Nasdaq 0.8 percent.

All three have gained more than 10 percent in 2010. The Nasdaq leads the way, up 17.5 percent for the year.

The S&P 500 completed its recovery this week from the 46 percent plunge that followed Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc.'s bankruptcy in September 2008 as government data showed that the world's largest economy grew at a faster pace in the third quarter than previously estimated.

"The stock market has come up too far, too fast," said James Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Minneapolis-based Wells Capital Management. "Many people are wondering how far it will go before a pullback. The economic data points that we're getting are good on balance, but not madly positive. That could explain the muted response of investors."

Financial markets will be closed Friday in observance of Christmas.

Alcoa shares gained 1.32 percent, or 20 cents, to $15.34 to lead the 30 stocks that make up the Dow. Shares of Bank of America Corp. had the largest fall. They lost 2.39 percent, or 32 cents, to $13.06.

In corporate news, Jo-Ann Stores Inc. said it would be bought by a private-equity firm for $1.6 billion. The stock rose 31.91 percent, or $14.56, to $60.19.

Bond prices fell slightly. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 3.39 percent from 3.35 percent late Wednesday.

The dollar fell 0.3 percent against an index of six heavily traded currencies.

Falling stocks outpaced rising ones by a small margin on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume was low at 2.6 billion shares.