By Anora Mahmudova and Barbara Kollmeyer, MarketWatch

U.S. equities were heading for a lackluster start on Thursday, as stock-index futures hovered near the flatline a day after the S&P 500 suffered its biggest loss in months and the Dow industrials backed further away from 20,000.

Stock-index futures were virtually unchanged after mixed economic data. Weekly jobless claims (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/jobless-claims-tumble-10000-to-265000-2016-12-29)tumbled to extremely low levels, that have been the norm since last summer. Meanwhile, the trade deficit widened by more than expected.

Dow Jones Industrial Average futures were flat at 19,774, while those for the S&P 500 index were unchanged at 2,246. Nasdaq-100 futures were also flat at 4,925.

The S&P 500 saw the biggest one-day and percentage drop since Oct. 11 (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/dow-on-track-to-make-a-fresh-attempt-to-hurdle-over-20000-2016-12-28) on Wednesday, falling 0.8%, or 18.96, to 2,249.92, while Dow industrials fell 111.36 points, or 0.6%, to 19,833.68, the biggest drop since Dec. 14. The losses came as an index that measures pending home sales unexpectedly fell 2.5% in November (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/pending-home-sales-fall-25-in-november-as-trump-win-raises-mortgage-costs-2016-12-28), to the lowest level in more than a year.

See:Why Dow 20,000 isn't a foregone conclusion in 2016 (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/dow-20000-isnt-a-foregone-conclusion-in-2016so-dont-break-out-the-bubbly-2016-12-22)

(http://www.marketwatch.com/story/dow-20000-isnt-a-foregone-conclusion-in-2016so-dont-break-out-the-bubbly-2016-12-22)Also read:All the important Dow milestones in 1 chart (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/dow-20000-isnt-a-foregone-conclusion-in-2016so-dont-break-out-the-bubbly-2016-12-22)

Investors are navigating thin volumes, which can at times exacerbate moves. Thursday marks the next to the last trading session of the year.

With only two trading sessions to go in 2017, the main indexes are on track to end the year with solid monthly and annual gains, however.

Opinion: Santa seems to be a no-show at the stock market again (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/santa-seems-to-be-a-no-show-at-the-stock-market-again-2016-12-28)

Stocks have been rallying on the view that President-elect Donald Trump's administration will spur economic growth via spending and tax cuts, though there have been concerns that the moves have come too far and too fast. Meanwhile, expectations that inflation will rise as well have pushed up interest rates, and mortgage rates have been jumping in step with that.

Read:All the important Dow milestones in one chart (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/all-of-the-important-dow-milestones-in-one-chart-2016-12-28)

Stocks to watch: A $750 million defamation lawsuit was filed against CBS Corp. (CBSA) on Wednesday by Burke Ramsey, the older brother of a 6-year-old beauty queen who was mysteriously killed in 1996. Ramsey claims a prime-time special by the network defamed him for publicity and profit (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/jonbenet-ramseys-brother-sues-cbs-for-defamation-2016-12-28).

(FBIO)Fortress Biotech Inc. (FBIO) shares soared 75% in late trading Wednesday (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/fortress-bio-soars-after-reporting-breakthrough-with-car-t-cancer-approach-2016-12-28) after the company reported a breakthrough with a cancer treatment that has suffered of late.

Other markets: The dollar was under pressure on Thursday (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/dollar-weakens-against-yen-taking-a-hit-on-weak-us-home-sales-2016-12-29) against major rivals, and strength in the Japanese yen contributed to a 1.3% drop for the Nikkei 225 index . Elsewhere, Asian stocks were mixed. Europe logged moderate losses (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/european-stocks-break-3-day-winning-run-deepen-losses-for-2016-2016-12-29), with banking shares under pressure.

WTI oil futures were lower after data from industry group American Petroleum Institute showed that crude inventories likely expanded last week (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/oil-prices-slide-as-us-supply-data-shows-unexpected-spike-2016-12-29), against expectations for a contraction. Official inventory data from the Energy Information Administration is due later on Thursday.

Gold and silver prices were moving higher.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 29, 2016 09:07 ET (14:07 GMT)

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