* Investors focus on congressional-White House battles ahead
* Positive jobs data has little impact
* Retailers mixed after sales reports
* Dow down 0.06 pct, S&P up 0.05 pct, Nasdaq up 0.02 pct
By Gabriel Debenedetti
NEW YORK, Jan 3 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks took a breather on
Thursday a day after celebrating Washington's deal to avert the
"fiscal cliff" with the biggest one-day rally in a year.
Investors turned their focus to potentially bigger battles
ahead in Congress, including a likely bitter partisan battle
over raising the federal debt ceiling.
"I would be cautious of big moves going forward. There are
still some clouds over the horizon, with the fiscal issue of the
government. We don't know how they're going to pan out, but in
all likelihood there's not going to be a calamity," said Jeff
Meyerson, head of trading at Sunrise Securities in New York.
Better-than-expected hiring data did not boost equity prices
despite showing U.S. private employers added 215,000 jobs in
December. Economists had expected a gain of 133,000 jobs,
according to a Reuters poll.
"The report now sets the stage, as we expect a strong
non-farm payroll reading on Friday," said Andrew Wilkinson,
chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York
The government's broader monthly payrolls report, due on
Friday, is expected to show the economy created 150,000 jobs
compared with 146,000 in November, according to a Reuters poll.
The U.S. unemployment rate is seen holding steady at 7.7
In another report on Thursday, the number of Americans
filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose last week, but
year-end holidays likely distorted the picture of labor market
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 7.85
points, or 0.06 percent, at 13,404.70. The Standard & Poor's 500
Index gained 0.72 points, or 0.05 percent, at 1,463.14.
The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.71 points, or 0.02
percent, at 3,112.98.
Wednesday's rally allowed Wall Street to open 2013 with its
best performance in over a year after the House of
Representatives late on Tuesday passed a measure to avert the
fiscal cliff, which could have caused a recession.
Shares in U.S. retailer Costco Wholesale Corp rose
1 percent to $102.51 after the company reported a
better-than-expected 9 percent rise in December sales at stores
open at least a year, primarily boosted by an additional sales
day in the reporting period.
Gap Inc stock rose 0.3 percent to $31.47 after
larger gains early on, following news that the retailer will buy
women's fashion boutique Intermix Inc for $130 million to enter
the luxury clothes market, the Wall Street Journal
The S&P Energy index had the largest gains of the
major sector indexes, at 0.44 percent, led in part by CONSOL
Energy, which said it expects to sell more non-core
assrets in 2013. CONSOL was up 2.9 percent to $31.92.
Family Dollar Stores Inc stock fell 11 percent to
$56.96 on the company's report of lower-than-expected quarterly
profit as its emphasis on selling more everyday items like
cigarettes and soft drinks put pressure on margins.