* ECB stands pat on interest rates; dovish on guidance
* U.S. jobless claims rose to 243,000 last week - report
* AIG rises after CEO Hancock says to resign
* Dow up 0.04 pct, S&P up 0.02 pct, Nasdaq down 0.09 pct
(Updates to open)
By Yashaswini Swamynathan
March 9 U.S. stocks opened little changed on
Thursday as investors held off from making big bets ahead of
Friday's jobs data that could boost the chances of an interest
rate hike next week.
U.S. crude prices pared losses after hitting a four-month
low of $48.79 before the open, following a record rise in
The S&P 500 energy index was down 0.8 percent,
trading at its lowest level since November.
The European Central Bank kept its policy stance unchanged
and remained dovish on its outlook ahead of key elections in
France and the Netherlands and as a surge in inflation that is
expected to be temporary.
Investors are squarely focused on Friday's U.S. nonfarm
payrolls report, which is likely to feed into Federal Reserve's
decision on interest rates at its meeting on March 14-15.
"I think we are headed for another defensive day, based on
climbing yields, falling oil prices and tomorrow's employment
number, which will be another confirmation that the Fed may be
more aggressive in raising rates than previously expected," said
Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard
Financial in New York.
Worries over Wall Street valuations and unusually hawkish
comments from Fed officials have led a post-election rally to
lose steam in recent days.
The S&P 500 has closed lower for the past three days,
setting it up for the first weekly decline in seven weeks.
"The market is priced to perfection, so any disappointment
is not going to be well received," Cardillo said.
Thursday also marks the eighth anniversary of the second
longest bull market run of the index.
At 9:37 a.m. ET (1437 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average
was up 7.98 points, or 0.04 percent, at 20,863.71, the
S&P 500 was up 0.45 points, or 0.02 percent, at 2,363.43.
The Nasdaq Composite was down 5.36 points, or 0.09
percent, at 5,832.19. Apple, which has been trading
close to record highs, was off 0.9 percent and kept the
tech-heavy index in the red.
A Labor Department report on Thursday showed the number of
Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose to 243,000
last week, but remained below 300,000 for the 105th week,
pointing to a healthy labor market.
Seven, of the 11 major S&P sectors were higher, led by a 0.4
percent increase in financials. Almost all big U.S. bank
stocks were up about 0.5 percent.
American International Group was up 1.7 percent at
$64.50 after Chief Executive Officer Peter Hancock said he would
Shares of e.l.f Beauty jumped 16 percent to $29.55
following the cosmetics maker's better-than-expected quarterly
Declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by 1,511
to 1,067. On the Nasdaq, 1,111 issues rose and 1,052 fell.
The S&P 500 index showed two new 52-week highs and six new
lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 12 new highs and 13 new lows.
(Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by