Dow stalls just below record high

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U.S. stocks ended in the red Thursday, with the Dow stalling just below its all-time high.

After two days of triple-digit gains, the Dow Jones industrial average came within spitting distance of its all-time high before the rally lost steam into the close. At the end of the day, the Dow was down 0.2% and is now 1% from its all-time high of 14,198.10, reached in October 2007.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq shed 0.1%.

Thursday also marked the last trading day of February, which has largely been a dud for stocks. Still, the Dow rose 1.4% for the month, while the S&P 500 added 1.1% and the Nasdaq gained 0.6%.

The day's lackluster performance came as investors weighed better-than-expected jobless claims data against a tepid report on the nation's economic growth.

While jobless claims fell sharply last week, the government's second estimate of fourth-quarter GDP showed a nearly imperceptible gain of 0.1% on an annual basis. The revised reading fell short of the 0.5% growth economists were expecting.

Related: Sluggish economy may signal correction

Following a massive rally in January, it hasn't been a surprise for stocks to take a pause.

Even with the sluggish trading this month, all three indexes are still up between roughly 5% and 7% for the year. And the S&P 500 is 4% from its all-time highs reached in October 2007.

Related: Fear & Greed Index back in greed

On the corporate front, Barnes & Noble (BKS) shares rose after CEO William Lynch Jr. told investors on an analyst call that the bookseller was taking steps to "right size our cost structure in the Nook segment."

Department store chain Sears Holdings Corp (SHLD) reported sales at stores open a year or more fell 1.4% for the year. The company also said that it has closed 300 Sears and Kmart stores, or 13% of its total, since 2006.

J.C. Penney (JCP) shares tumbled after the retailer reported a dismal fourth-quarter loss and weak same-store sales.

JCPenney: It's a fire sale!
JCPenney: It's a fire sale!

Groupon (GRPN) shares plunged after the daily deals site's results missed already low expectations. Shares rose in after-hours trading after the company announced that CEO Andrew Mason will leave the daily deals site he co-founded.

Shares of Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR) rose after the gun maker reported earnings that beat expectations. The company benefited from a surge in firearm sales on growing fears of new gun-control laws following the re-election of President Obama and the shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Related: Gunmaker CEO: 'We're selling everything we make'

Monster Beverage's (MNST) stock rose after the energy drink maker's earnings climbed more than 5%. The company's sales also improved but fell short of forecasts.

Clothing retailer Gap (GPS) reported better-than-expected earnings after the bell.

European markets finished higher, drawing support from comments from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi that suggested the bank had room to relax policy further. Meanwhile, the European Union is planning to cap bankers' bonuses to rein in reckless risk taking.

Asian markets had a banner day. After the nomination of Haruhiko Kuroda to be Japan's next central banker, the Nikkei posted a 2.7% increase to its highest point since 2008. The Shanghai Composite rose 2.3% and the Hang Seng added 2%.

The dollar rose against the euro and the Japanese yen, but fell versus the British pound.

Oil and gold prices slipped slightly.

The price on the 10-year Treasury rose, pushing the yield down to 1.88% from 1.90% late Wednesday.

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