The hesitancy to extend the market's big gains came as investors prepare for key readings on the jobs market over the next two days. Retailers are also reporting monthly sales figures Thursday, while data on factory orders and pending home sales are also scheduled to be released.
Traders are likely cautious ahead of the glut of economic statistics because they want to see if Wednesday's stronger-than-expected report on manufacturing was an aberration from the recent trend that indicates economic growth is slowing down. Surprise expansion in the manufacturing sector helped push the Dow Jones industrial average up 255 points Wednesday.
Thursday's jobs report is expected to show initial claims for unemployment benefits rose by 2,000 last week to 475,000, according to Thomson Reuters. That's well above the levels considered needed for a healthy economy where employers are rapidly adding jobs.
The Labor Department's monthly employment report Friday is also expected to paint a weak picture of the economy. Economists predict the unemployment rate inched up to 9.6 percent last month from 9.5 percent in July.
High unemployment remains the biggest hurdle to a strong, steady recovery. People worried about jobs have cut back on their spending, which has also been a drag on the economy.
Retail sales from August could be crucial because of the back-to-school shopping period. If retailers struggled to increase sales during the month, it would be a strong sign that shoppers are still worried about their jobs and finances.
Ahead of the opening bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 3, or less than 0.1 percent, to 10,269. Standard & Poor's 500 index futures were unchanged at 1,081.70, while Nasdaq 100 index futures rose 3.00, or 0.2 percent, to 1,823.00.
Bond prices also dipped. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 2.59 percent from 2.58 percent late Wednesday. Its often used as a gauge to set interest rates on mortgages and other consumer loans.
Aside from the jobs reports, traders also will get what is expected to be another disappointing report on the battered housing market. The National Association of Realtors' index of pending sales likely fell for the third straight month in July after a home buyer tax credit expired. Pending sales are considered a barometer for future completed sales because typically there is a lag between the signing of a sales contract and a completed deal.
Factory orders, meanwhile, likely rose in July after a sharp drop in June. Economists expect orders rose 0.3 percent after falling 1.2 percent a month earlier. The growth in factory orders would fit with the upbeat manufacturing data released Wednesday.