By Kate Gibson, MarketWatch
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks fell Thursday after a gauge of the services sector fell in April, dampening cheer that came with better-than-forecast data on the labor market.
"Friday's employment number once again, looms large. Just like every other month before this one," Kevin Giddis, head of fixed-income capital markets at Morgan Keegan & Co., wrote of the markets' tentative stance.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) shed 39.05 points, or 0.3%, to 13,229.52.
The S&P 500 Index (SPX) fell 6.48 points, or 0.5%, to 1,395.83.
Weaker still, the Nasdaq Composite (RIXF) was down 22.82 points, or 0.8%, at 3,037.03.
For every stock gaining two declined on the New York Stock Exchange, where 284 million shares traded by 11:50 a.m. Eastern.
Noteworthy movers on the earnings front included Whole Foods Market Inc. (>> Whole Foods Market, Inc.), General Motors Co. (GM.XX) and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. (GMCR), among others.
Going a long way toward setting the Wall Street tone, the Institute for Supply Management said its services-sector index fell to 53.5% from a reading of 56.0% in March.
The employment component of the index fell to a four-month low -- "noteworthy ahead of payrolls tomorrow," emailed Peter Boockvar, equity analyst at Miller Tabak.
"Positively, inexplicably and similarly to the jump seen in the ISM manufacturing report, exports jumped" to their best level since March 2011, Boockvar added.
Earlier Thursday, first-time jobless claims fell to 365,000 last week, with the report coming a day before the Labor Department's pivotal report on nonfarm payrolls and employment for April.
Worry about Europe came as European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the economic outlook for the euro region remained at risk as the sovereign-debt crisis threatened growth. The centrla bank kept its benchmark rate at 1%, as had been expected.