* Investors focus on Fed comments, indexes near highs
* Facebook volatile after results, Exxon shares higher
* Jobless claims fall slightly less than expected
* Indexes down: Dow 0.3 pct, S&P 0.3 pct, Nasdaq 0.4 pct
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, Oct 31 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks fell modestly on
Thursday, with investors cautious with indexes near record
levels as they digested recent comments from the Federal
Reserve, though some strong corporate earnings provided a reason
Optimism about earnings was boosted by Exxon Mobil Corp
, one of the largest U.S. companies by market cap, which
reported adjusted third-quarter earnings that beat expectations,
sending shares 1.1 percent higher to $89.78.
Expedia also advanced following its results,
topping the S&P 500 percentage gainers, while Facebook Inc
fluctuated between steep gains and losses.
The Fed said Wednesday it had a weaker growth outlook for
the U.S. economy, though it held steady with its stimulus
program, which has fueled the S&P's 23 percent surge this year.
That rally has come amid weaker-than-expected economic data and
an earnings season marked by weak revenue.
"Nobody was surprised by the lack of action by the Fed, but
there was a lack of clarity that was disappointing," said Rex
Macey, who helps oversee $20 billion as chief investment officer
at Wilmington Trust in Atlanta, Georgia.
"There is reason for caution at these levels, but nobody
seems to be euphoric, so I don't think people need to get too
defensive at this point."
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 48.61
points, or 0.31 percent, at 15,570.15. The Standard & Poor's 500
Index was down 4.95 points, or 0.28 percent, at 1,758.36.
The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 15.18 points, or
0.39 percent, at 3,915.44.
The Dow has gained 2.9 percent in October, while the S&P has
added 5 percent and the Nasdaq is up 3.7 percent.
Data on Thursday showed jobless claims fell slightly less
than expected in the latest week, dropping 10,000 to 340,000.
The Chicago Purchasing Manager's Index came in at 65.9, far
ahead of expectations for a reading of 55.
While investors have been concerned by weak data pointing to
slowing economic growth, strong data has also been viewed as a
reason to sell, given that the Fed has said it would begin to
slow its stimulus when economic growth meets its targets.
Facebook reported strong growth in its mobile advertising
business late on Wednesday, though it said it didn't plan to
boost the frequency of ads shown to users. Trading was volatile,
with shares soaring during the premarket session but then
turning sharply negative. They last traded at $48.38, down 1.3
Expedia jumped 18 percent to $59.98 a day after reporting
third-quarter earnings that beat expectations, while Starbucks
Corp fell 1.7 percent to $79.44 in the wake of a
Of 313 companies in the S&P 500 that reported earnings
through Wednesday morning, 68.4 percent topped Wall Street
expectations, above the 63 percent beat rate since 1994 and the
66 percent rate for the past four quarters, according to Thomson
Reuters data. Only 53.7 percent of companies have topped revenue
expectations, well below the 61 percent average since 2002.