NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- U.S. stocks ended mixed Thursday as investors digested a cautious economic outlook from the chairman of the Federal Reserve one day before a key report on the job market.
The Dow Jones industrial average () fell 11 points, or 0.1%, to end at 12,705. The S&P 500 ( ) rose 1 points, or 0.1%, to 1,324. The Nasdaq ( ) rose 11 points, or 0.4%, to 2,860.
"It's a quiet day," said Paul Zemsky, head of multi-asset strategies at ING Investment Management. "The market is taking a pause before payrolls."
On Friday, the government is expected to report the U.S. economy added 130,000 jobs in January, according to economists surveyed by CNNMoney.
That would mark a sharp slowdown in hiring versus December, when 200,000 jobs were created. The unemployment rate is expected to rise to 8.6%.
Speaking before Congress Thursday, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said the economy has shown some signs of improvement recently, but described the pace of the recovery as "frustratingly slow."
The sluggish recovery leaves the economy "vulnerable to shocks," including the debt crisis in Europe, the central bank chief added.
The comments raised speculation that the Fed is willing to take additional steps to support the economy if conditions deteriorate, said Doug Roberts, chief market strategist for Channel Capital Research.
"He's saying that if things get worse, I'm available and we're going to ease," said Roberts. "Clearly, he's telling the market that if you decide to bet against me you're going to get killed."
The Fed has purchased billions of dollars worth of Treasury bonds and other assets under its quantitative easing program. Some analysts say the Fed could hold a third round of asset purchases this year, depending on how the recovery progresses.
Meanwhile, investors remain on the lookout for an official agreement on a debt-reduction plan and second bailout for Greece. The deal is expected to come by the end of the week, though deadlines have been missed in the past.
U.S. stocks rose Wednesday, but closed off the highs of the day, on a combination of improved economic data and easing concerns about Europe's debt crisis.
Data released Thursday morning from outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas shows planned job cuts surged 28% in January to 53,486 -- marking the highest total since 116,000 job cuts were announced in September.
The Challenger report follows data Wednesday from payroll processor ADP saying that the private sector added 170,000 jobs in January, down sharply from 292,000 in December.
Companies: Retailers reported better-than-expected same-store sales in January, according to data from sales-tracker Thomson Reuters.
Abercrombie & Fitch's () stock fell 13% after the clothing retailer reported weak same-store sales for the latest quarter and lowered its earnings guidance.
Zynga () shares rallied 17% following Facebook's IPO filing. Zynga's gaming apps and advertising contributed about 12% of Facebook revenue last year.
Unilever () shares slumped 3.5% after the maker of Lipton teas, Dove soaps and other consumer products said it had difficulty passing higher raw material costs on to consumers last year, and announced a gloomy outlook for 2012.
Qualcomm (Fortune 500), a company that sells chips used in cell phones, boosted its forecast for its 2012 performance. Shares rose 2%.,
Viacom (Fortune 500) shares fell after the media giant reported better-than-expected earnings in its fiscal first quarter, but cited ratings weakness and softness in the U.S. television advertising market. Its film division swung to an operating loss in the quarter.,
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters () shares jumped 24% after the company reported its first-quarter revenue soared 102% compared to a year earlier, boosted by K-Cup sales.
World markets: European stocks closed modestly higher. Britain's The DAX ( ) in Germany added 0.6% and France's CAC 40 ( ) gained 0.3%. The FTSE 100 ( ) in London ended little changed.
Asian markets ended higher. The Shanghai Composite () climbed 2%, the Hang Seng ( ) in Hong Kong added 2% and Japan's Nikkei ( ) rose 0.8%.
Oil for March delivery slipped $1.25 cents to end at $96.36 a barrel.
Gold futures for April delivery added $9.80 to $1,759.30 an ounce.
Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury fell, pushing the yield up to 1.85%.
|Honda Odyssey recall ties 900,000 minivans to fire risk|
|Heineken and Sam Adams boycott St. Patrick's Day parades|
|Crimea: Economic fallout of a 'yes' vote|
|China's Alibaba picks U.S. for IPO|
|Tesla CEO fights back in New Jersey|
|Overnight Avg Rate||Latest||Change||Last Week|
|30 yr fixed||4.28%||4.37%|
|15 yr fixed||3.32%||3.40%|
|30 yr refi||4.28%||4.38%|
|15 yr refi||3.31%||3.39%|
Today's featured rates: