Investing.com - U.S. stock markets were modestly lower after the open on Thursday, as investors digested contradicting U.S. employment data, while concerns over further budgetary battles facing the U.S. came into focus.
During early U.S. morning trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.1%, the S&P 500 declined 0.1%, while the Nasdaq 100 slumped 0.1%.
Payroll processing firm ADP said earlier that non-farm private employment rose by a seasonally adjusted 215,000 in December, above expectations for an increase of 133,000.
The previous month's figure was revised up to a gain of 148,000 from a previously reported increase of 118,000.
Separately, the U.S. Department of Labor said the number of individuals filing for initial jobless benefits in the week ending December 29 rose by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 372,000, compared to expectations for a decline of 7,000 to 355,000.
Jobless claims for the preceding week were revised up to 362,000 from a previously reported 350,000,
Market players were now eyeing the release of the minutes of the Federal Reserve's most recent policy-setting meeting.
At that meeting, the Fed pledged to keep interest rates at near-zero levels so long as the unemployment rate is above 6.5% and provided inflation in the year or two ahead is below 2.5%.
Traders also looked ahead to Friday's highly-anticipated data on U.S. nonfarm payrolls, as investors attempt to gauge the strength of the country's economic recovery.
Any improvement in the U.S. economy could scale back expectations for further easing from the Fed.
Meanwhile, investors remained concerned over the longer term fiscal outlook in the U.S., with negotiations on raising the U.S. debt ceiling still to come in February.
Echoing the growing nervousness over the debt ceiling debate, a spokesman from the International Monetary Fund warned that "more remains to be done" to lower the U.S. debt load.
Rating agency Moody's said Wednesday that avoiding the fiscal cliff was only the first in a number of steps needed to ensure that the U.S. kept its coveted triple-A rating.
Standard & Poor's, which downgraded the U.S. to AA+ from AAA in August 2011, said the deal had done little to alter the country's negative credit outlook.
In earnings news, Family Dollar saw shares plunge 11.5% after the discount retailer lowered its earnings outlook for the second quarter, citing a "challenging" holiday season.
First quarter profit at the company totaled USD80.3 million, compared to USD80.4 million in the year-ago period.
Data-storage firm Mellanox Technologies saw shares plunge 17.5% after the company lowered its revenue forecast for the fourth quarter.
On the upside, clothing retailer Gap saw shares jump 4.5% after it agreed to acquire women's fashion boutique firm Intermix in a deal valued at USD130 million.
Across the Atlantic, European stock markets were mildly lower. The EURO STOXX 50 declined 0.5%, France's CAC 40 shed 0.5%, Germany's DAX slumped 0.3%, while Britain's FTSE 100 eased up 0.1%.
During the Asian trading session, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index was little changed, while Japan's Nikkei 225 Index was closed for a national holiday.
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