NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks paused on Thursday after a three-day rally, with investors concerned about weaker U.S. economic data and comments from the European Central Bank chief that painted a mixed picture of the region's debt crisis.
Energy stocks pressured the market after Chevron Corp <CVX.N>, the second largest U.S. oil company, said fourth-quarter profit would be far below the previous quarter. Chevron was off 2.2 percent to $105.40, while the S&P energy sector <.GSPE> fell 0.5 percent, the biggest decliner among S&P groups.
ECB President Mario Draghi said the euro zone economy continued to face great uncertainty but saw some signs of stabilization. He said the ECB's flood of cheap loans was helping the banking system substantially.
U.S. retail sales rose at the weakest pace in seven months in December and first-time claims for jobless benefits increased, signs an economic recovery remained shaky.
The data disappointed investors, who had become optimistic about a recovery. After a recent batch of strong reports, some traders anticipated that equities would decouple from Europe's financial woes.
"The question that has been haunting the market for some time is the underlying strength of the U.S. economy. Although we have had some strong numbers recently, today's numbers were less than expected, disappointing the market."
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 17.03 points, or 0.14 percent, at 12,432.42. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 0.54 points, or 0.04 percent, at 1,291.94. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 5.56 points, or 0.21 percent, at 2,716.32.
The S&P 500 fell below a five-month high after rising in six of the year's first seven sessions. It closed at 1,292.48 on Wednesday and faced technical resistance near the 1,300 level.
But helping the market's mood, Italian and Spanish government yields fell sharply in debt auctions in countries on the front line of the debt crisis. <GVD/EUR>
Among individual stocks, shares of Multi-Fineline Electronix Inc <MFLX.O> jumped 18.6 percent to $25.53 after preliminary quarterly net sales for the maker of circuit boards for electronics came in better than expected.
Wynn Resorts Ltd <WYNN.O> slid 4.3 percent to $107.03 after Vice Chairman and major shareholder Kazuo Okada sued the casino operator, claiming it was blocking his attempts to review business accounts despite repeated requests.