NEW YORK — U.S. stocks were slightly higher Thursday, helped by comments from European Central Bank policymakers, who said they were willing to provide more stimulus to the region's economy, if needed.
Investors now turn to Friday, when a key jobs report will be released that could decide whether or not the Federal Reserve raises interest rates this month.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was up 30 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,381 as of 2:35 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose four points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,953. The Nasdaq composite edged was down six points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,744.
Stocks started the day solidly higher, but momentum waned as the day dragged on and the major indexes dipped briefly into negative territory by the mid-afternoon.
READY TO ACT: The European Central Bank said it's ready to give the eurozone a bigger dose of stimulus should inflation across the 19-country bloc fail to pick up, President Mario Draghi said in a news conference. Along with keeping interest rates low, the ECB is pumping 60 billion euros a month into the region's economy through purchases of government and corporate bonds. The program is slated to run at least through September 2016.
"Draghi said in 2012 he would do whatever it takes to grow the eurozone economy and he's holding to that promise," said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist at Prudential Financial.
European markets jumped on the news. Germany's DAX closed up 2.7 percent, France's CAC-40 rose 2.2 percent and U.K.'s FTSE 100 rose 1.8 percent.
CENTRAL BANKS: At the same time the ECB is stimulating Europe's economy, the Federal Reserve could raise U.S. interest rates for the first time since the financial crisis. While chances of a September interest rate increase have diminished because of signs of weakening global growth and a sell-off in Chinese stocks, many believe the growing U.S. economy may be ready to withstand higher interest rates.
ENERGY: Oil continued to rebound following a massive sell-off earlier in the week. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 50 cents to close at $46.75 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude oil, which is used to price oil internationally, gained 25 cents to $50.75 a barrel in London.
JOBS ON TAP: Friday's jobs report for August could play a big role in guiding the Fed's decision on interest rates this month. Economists are forecasting that U.S. employers created 220,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent.
A private survey that came out Wednesday reflected some weakness in the job market. The payroll processor ADP said U.S. businesses added 190,000 jobs last month, up from 177,000 in July, but below a six-month high of 231,000 set in June and below the 200,000 jobs forecasters had expected.
NO JOY: Shares of Joy Global, which makes heavy machinery used in mining, dropped $3.37, or 15 percent, to $18.77 after the company posted results that were far lower than analysts expected. The company also cut its full-year forecasts. Like other equipment makers in the energy and materials industries, Joy has been hurt by low prices for metals and other commodities, which have diminished demand for equipment to extract those resources.
BONDS, CURRENCIES: U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.16 percent from 2.19 percent late Wednesday. The euro fell to $1.1136 from $1.1238. The dollar fell to 119.81 yen from 120.24 yen.
METALS: The price of gold fell $9.10 to settle at $1,124.50 an ounce, silver rose four cents to $14.70 an ounce and copper rose six cents to $2.39 a pound.