NEW YORK (AP) — U. S. stock futures fluctuated Thursday on a bevy of economic data that sent mixed signals about hiring, construction, jobs and the mindset of the American consumer.

Dow Jones industrial futures slipped 6 points to 15,229. The broader S&P futures lost 2.1 points to hit 1,652.20. Nasdaq futures gained 4 points to 3,004.75.

While builders broke ground on fewer homes last month, applications for new sites struck a five-year high, according to the Commerce Department. That would suggest that demand for new property is sustained and growing.

That is being driven partially by improved prospects on the jobs front.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose by 32,000 last week, but that follows numbers that hit a five-year low.

And the less volatile four-week measure showed applications ticking up by just 1,250, which suggests that employers are hiring, though not aggressively.

The Labor Department released solidly good news about gas prices, which are falling. The sharp decline was enough to drive the overall measure of U. S. consumer prices to levels not seen since in more than four years.

That means more pocket money for consumers, but there have been mixed signals from retailers about what shoppers, particularly those with low incomes, are able to do with that money.

Wal-Mart's first-quarter earnings fell short of Wall Street expectations and its outlook sent shares skidding in premarket trading.

The report hints at a very tough environment for Americans who are in low-income brackets.

While hiring has recovered, it has done so slowly and it has left many workers behind.

And a 2 percent hike in payroll taxes that kicked in on Jan. 1 is hitting that segment of the population especially hard, with households that earn $50,000 a year taking home $1,000 less.

There will be a lot of attention paid to the performances of J. C. Penney and Nordstrom, which report earnings after the closing bell.


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