Stocks end mostly lower on mixed data; Dow hits record

Stocks closed near unchanged on Thursday, with the Dow rising to a record, as investors sorted through economic data that sent differing signals on the economy.

"There are some cross currents in today's numbers. They point to an economy that is recovering, but at a modest pace. Overall we had kind of a mixed bag," said Paul Mangus, head of equity strategy and research for Wells Fargo Private Bank.

Wall Street began Thursday's session in retreat as existing home sales fell to their lowest level in nearly a year and new claims for jobless benefits climbed last week to a near nine-month high. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank's index of factory activity climbed a bit this month and an index of leading economic indicators rose 0.8 percent last month.

Facebook declined after the social-networking company said founder Mark Zuckerberg would sell 41.4 million shares worth about $2.3 billion as part of an offering of 70 million shares. Target shares fell after the discount retailer said about 40 million credit and debit card accounts used by its customers may have been impacted by a data breachConAgra Foods rallied after the producer of packaged food reported fiscal second-quarter revenue that beat estimates.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average wavered between slight gains and falls, closing up slightly at a record.

The S&P 500 lost a few points, with utilities the leading laggard and energy the best performing among its 10 major sectors.

The Nasdaq fell.

The dollar climbed against other global currencies, and the 10-year Treasury note yield rose 3 basis points to 2.92 percent.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, gold settled at a more-than three-year low, falling 3.3 percent to $1,193.60 an ounce.

The cost of crude climbed, with oil futures for February delivery up 97 cents, or 1 percent, at $98.77 a barrel.

Economic reports had existing-home sales falling 4.3 percent in November, below estimates and the lowest annual rate since December 2012.

Separately, the Conference Board's gauge of U.S. economic activity climbed in November, and another report had factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region rising some in December.

Ahead of the open, stock-index futures furthered their declines after the Labor reported initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased by 10,000 to 379,000.

On Wednesday, Wall Street rallied, with the S&P 500 and Dow industrials closing at records, after the Fed moved to cut stimulus, with investors embracing the move as a signal the Fed views the economy's strength as sustainable.

"There are a couple of things going on between yesterday and today. Yesterday was a relief rally in that an element of uncertainty that had been plaguing investors has been removed. And now we're looking at statistics on their own basis for forecasts on the economy and corporate earnings," said Mangus at Wells Fargo.

—By CNBC's Kate Gibson