NEW YORK - The stock market posted slight losses Thursday after European Central Bank officials decided to delay any stimulus until next year. Investors also braced for the release of Friday's U.S. jobs report.
Stocks had been solidly lower much of the day but recovered some of their losses after reports that the ECB would consider a large stimulus package - possibly a bond-purchasing program that would include European government debt - for next month.
Earlier comments from ECB president Mario Draghi were initially interpreted to mean the bank would not act until next year, but by late Thursday consensus was building that a stimulus was imminent.
"The ECB and Draghi basically said, 'We don't know what we are doing yet, but when we do it next month, it's going to be big,' " said Ian Winer, head of equity trading at Wedbush Securities.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 12.52 points, or 0.07 percent, to 17,900.10 after being down nearly 100 points earlier. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 2.41 points, or 0.12 percent, to 2,071.92. The Nasdaq composite fell 5.04 points, or 0.11 percent, to 4,769.44.
Energy stocks were among the hardest hit. The S&P 500's energy sector lost nearly 1 percent as the price of oil sank again.
Benchmark U.S. crude fell 57 cents to close at $66.81 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on news that Saudi Arabia had reduced its January prices to U.S. and Asian customers.
Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 28 cents to $69.64 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
Earlier Thursday, the ECB had announced a decision to keep its main interest rate unchanged at a record-low 0.05 percent. Following that, Bloomberg News, citing unnamed central-bank officials, reported that ECB officials were considering a large bond-purchasing program.
Europe has teetered on the brink of recession as Germany, its largest economy, has stagnated. If Europe slipped into recession, it would be its third since 2008.
Friday's release of the jobs report for November will follow solid hiring data Wednesday from private-payrolls firm ADP. Economists expect that employers added 225,000 jobs last month, and that the unemployment rate slipped to 5.7 percent from 5.8 percent.
On Thursday, the Labor Department said the number of people who filed for unemployment benefits fell by 17,000, to 297,000. A reading below 300,000 has been a signal that hiring continues to pick up in the United States.