Stocks retreated Thursday as investors cashed in profits from the previous session's rally ahead of the Conference Board's report on leading economic indicators.
Wall Street was also hesitant to drive stocks higher as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke at a Chicago conference on competition with the banking industry and subprime lending - a speech that could provide clues to whether problems with subprime mortgage loans could affect the broader economy.
The pullback in stocks came despite a surprise drop in jobless claims, which suggested that the employment market is stronger than many economists anticipated. The Labor Department reported the number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits fell for a fifth straight week to the lowest level in four months.
In the first few minutes of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average was down about 32 points at the 13,455 level.
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