NEW YORK (AP) -- Stock indexes are inching higher in early trading Thursday after two giant U.S. retailers turned in mixed earnings reports.
Wal-Mart's stock dropped $3.37 to $67.94 after the retailer issued a weak forecast for fourth-quarter profits. Target's profit rose but the company also said sales increased at a slower pace than last year. Target's stock edged up less than 1 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average moved between small gains and losses shortly after the opening bell. As of 10 a.m. it was up seven points at 12,582. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up three points at 1,358 and the Nasdaq composite was up three at 2,850.
Stocks have fallen since the Presidential election last week, when voters returned President Barack Obama and a divided Congress to power. Concern that political wrangling will stop lawmakers from reaching a deal on reducing the budget deficit has prompted the selling. The Dow lost 5 percent from Election Day, Nov. 6, through Wednesday's close.
A series of sharp tax increases and government spending cuts will go into effect Jan. 1 unless Obama and Congress reach a deal first. The impact would total $700 billion for 2013 and could send the country back into recession.
Superstorm Sandy drove the number of people seeking unemployment benefits up to 439,000 last week, the Labor Department reported. Applications for benefits rose 78,000, mostly because a large number were filed in states damaged by the storm.
Among other stocks making big moves:
NetApp, a data storage business, jumped $2.85 to $28.98 after the company reported earnings that were higher than analysts were expecting.
Viacom, the owner of Nickelodeon, MTV and the Paramount movie and TV studio, rose $1.67 to $49.66. The media conglomerate did better than investors had expected thanks to lower costs and higher fees from cable and satellite companies for carrying its cable networks.