Feb. 7, 2013 at 10:06 AM ET
Stocks are slipping in early trading on Wall Street after several weak earnings reports dampened optimism about a decline in applications for unemployment benefits.
About 30 minutes after the opening bell, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 40 points, or 0.29 percent, at 13,946. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 2 points, or 0.12 percent, at 1,510. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 5 points, or 0.17 percent, at 3,163.
News Corp., Rupert Murdoch's media conglomerate, fell 1 percent after lowering its earnings forecast, citing weak performance in several businesses including its Fox broadcast network. Akamai Technologies plunged 17 percent after its revenue missed Wall Street's forecasts.
Applications for unemployment benefits fell 5,000 to 366,000 last week. The four-week average dropped to 350,500, the lowest in nearly five years.
"The unemployment information, it has been interesting how much it's dropped off, but we could have a slowdown in firing, but that doesn't necessarily mean an uptick in hiring."
Recent data has pointed to a modest improvement in the economy, but one without enough strength to cause the Federal Reserve to back off it's easy monetary policy, helping the benchmark S&P index climb 6 percent for the year.
According to Thomson Reuters data through Wednesday morning, of 301 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 68.1 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters. In terms of revenue, 65.8 percent of companies have topped forecasts.
Looking ahead, fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are now expected to grow 4.7 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.
European shares were little changed after sharp falls the previous day, with any recovery capped by mixed earnings and concerns about economic and political developments in the euro zone. <.EU>
Asian shares and the euro paused from recent gains as investors awaited the European Central Bank's policy meeting later in the day and Draghi's view on euro zone growth prospects.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.