“Stocks posted a modest gain in thin, volatile trading Thursday ahead of the monthly government jobs report at the end of the week, while worries over the looming "fiscal cliff" continued to linger.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged higher, after closing higher in the previous session. Intel and Hewlett-Packard led the blue-chip gainers, while Boeing lagged. The Dow has been trading in a tight 55-point range throughout the session.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also held small gains. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded below 17.

Among key S&P sectors, techs led the gainers, while industrials slipped.

Apple briefly tumbled 3 percent at the open to hit a nine-month low before quickly recovering losses.The tech giant logged its biggest one-day drop in four years. Still, the stock is down more than 20 percent from its all-time high of $705 in September, trading in bear market territory. Since its peak in September, Apple's market cap has shriveled by a whopping $157 billion.

Apple's chart is very close to forming a 'death cross'—where the stock's 50-day moving average falls below the 200-day moving average. Technicians usually see the sign as a cue to sell.  Separately, Apple plans to move some production of its Mac computers to the U.S. from from China next year, said CEO Tim Cook.

On the economic front, jobless claims fell 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 370,000, according to the Labor Department. Economists had expected a reading of 380,000 compared with 393,000 in the prior week.

Meanwhile, planned layoffs gained for the third-straight month, with employers announcing 57,081 job cuts in November, according to a report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The gain was partly driven month in a row in November, partly driven by the bankruptcy of Hostess Brands.

Investors will be looking ahead to Friday's government jobs report. Economists polled by Reuters expect a gain of 93,000 in payrolls and an unchanged unemployment rate of 7.9 percent in November.

European stock markets closed higher. The ECB held interest rates at a record low of 0.75 percent, as expected. ECB President Mario Draghi said the central bank will continue to supply euro zone banks with all the liquidity they ask for in the central bank's refinancing operations at least until July 2013.

There will be an Economic Committee hearing on the fiscal cliff, after the announcement that U.S.politicians may have to put off their Christmas leave to hammer out the details of how to resolve the issue.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geither said on CNBC that Republicans are "making a little bit of progress" in fiscal cliff talks but, but added the Obama administration was "absolutely" ready to go over the cliff if the GOP doesn't agree to raise tax rates on the wealthy.

Among earnings, Lululemon Athletica slipped after the yoga apparel maker topped earnings expectations, but current-quarter guidance fell short of Wall Street estimates.

H&R Block rallied after the tax preparer posted a smaller-than-expected loss and beat revenue estimates.

Smithfield Foods advanced after the pork producer and processor topped earnings forecasts. Still, revenue was slightly lighter than expected.

Sirius XM Radio announced a $2 billion stock buyback program and declared a special cash dividend of 5 cents a share. So far, more than 150 companies have announced special dividends and accelerated their payouts in the fourth quarter, ahead of next year's possible tax increase on dividends.

Zynga jumped after the social-gaming company filed paperwork for a gaming license in Nevada, the firm's first step toward offering gambling games.  Standard Chartered confirmed that it will probably pay a further $330 million to U.S. authorities over allegations it did not comply with sanctions against trading with Iran. HSBC could be in line for a $1.8 billion fine over money laundering in Mexico,according to Reuters.

Garmin will replace R.R. Donnelley in the S&P 500 after the close of trading next Tuesday. R.R. Donnelley will join the S&P MidCap 400 index.”

http://www.cnbc.com/id/100284955