US stocks mixed after conflicting economic reports

Wall Street gnawed on a muddle of economic data and corporate earnings Thursday, pushing stocks lower after a brief rise.

The American consumer’s buying power was thrown into doubt early on after Costco, Macy’s and Target posted disappointing April sales. Colder temperatures and renewed worries about the economy weighed on shoppers.

Worker productivity fell sharply in the first three months of the year, the government said. That’s a mixed sign, auguring higher costs for businesses but holding out the promise of renewed hiring.

The labor market has been on traders’ minds all week; the big April jobs report is due out Friday. In the final major indicator before that announcement, the government said that the number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell last week by the most in three months.

GM shares fell 2 percent in early trading after the automaker said its first-quarter profit declined, mainly on losses in Europe. When people worry about whether Europe‘s debt crisis will spill over into the U.S., one of the major threats is that the European recession will harm sales by big American exporters such as GM and Caterpillar.

Major stock indexes lacked direction, opening lower then rising slightly in the first 15 minutes of trading. For much of the morning, they traded solidly lower. The indexes were back near flat by midday.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 10 points to 13,259 as of 11:30 a.m. EDT. The Standard Poor’s 500 index fell two to 1,400. The Nasdaq composite index fell 10 to 3,050.

The Carlyle Group, a big, politically-connected private equity firm, edged higher after an initial public offering of some 30.5 million common units worth $671 million.

The company priced its stock at below the expected range late Wednesday. Carlyle, trading on the Nasdaq under the ticker “CG,” has about $147 billion in assets under management.

Other swinging stocks:

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. plunged 46 percent, the most in the Russell 2000 index of small companies. The maker of single-cup coffee machines and cartridges said late Wednesday that its earnings for the fiscal year ending in September will be far below its previous guidance and analysts’ estimates.

Cablevision Systems Corp. dropped eight percent after its first-quarter revenue fell short of analysts’ expectations and profit declined sharply.

Viacom Inc., owner of MTV and Paramount Pictures, rose four percent after saying its net income rose sharply as its TV networks brought in more revenue.

— Orbitz Worldwide Inc. rose eight percent after narrowing its first-quarter loss, beating analysts’ estimates.

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Daniel Wagner can be reached at www.twitter.com/wagnerreports .

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