U.S. stocks were flat in volatile trading on Thursday, ahead of a long Easter weekend, as another drop in healthcare stocks blunted gains from upbeat industrial earnings and robust retail sales data.
U.S. retail sales increased by the most in 1-1/2 years in March, the latest indication that economic growth picked up in the first quarter after a false start.
The economy’s strength was underscored by data that showed the number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits dropped to its lowest in nearly 50 years last week.
“Retail sales really came back roaring. It looks like the consumer made up for the government shutdown and there were good numbers in jobless claims,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York.