* Stock markets closed early at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT)
* Jobless claims fell to 267,000 last week
* Crude prices up marginally
* Dow ends down 0.29 pct, S&P down 0.16 pct, Nasdaq up 0.05 pct (Updates to close)
By Noel Randewich
Dec 24 (Reuters) - Wall Street finished a little lower on Thursday as a drop in energy stocks kept a lid on holiday cheer during a shortened Christmas Eve trading session.
Equity markets wrapped up a session of subdued trading at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT), ahead of the Christmas Day holiday on Friday. Volume on the U.S. exchanges was 2.7 billion shares, compared to a 7.5 billion average over the last 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Oil prices rose marginally, with U.S. crude set for gains for a fourth straight day.
But the S&P energy sector snapped a three-day winning streak, declining 0.91 percent. Exxon Mobil lost 1.07 percent and was the biggest drag on the benchmark S&P 500.
The largest positive influence on the S&P was Facebook , up 0.37 percent.
A rally earlier this week left the S&P 500 marginally in positive territory for 2015, but the index is still down almost 1 percent for December, disappointing investors hoping for a rally ahead of Christmas Day.
"People are saying: 'Hey, I want to protect my portfolio and my gains and let's make sure we're in a defensive position come Monday'," said Jake Dollarhide, chief executive officer of Longbow Asset Management in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 0.29 percent to end at 17,552.17 points and the S&P 500 dipped 0.16 percent to 2,060.99. The Nasdaq Composite added 2.56 points or 0.05 percent to 5,048.49.
Nine of the 10 S&P sectors declined.
Data on Thursday showed jobless claims fell to 267,000 last week, beating the 270,000 estimated. Claims have stayed below 300,000 for 42 weeks in a row, helping the Federal Reserve's view of a stabilizing labor market.
With 2015 largely a lost year for stock investors and the U.S. Federal Reserve raising rates earlier this month for the first time in almost a decade, some looked ahead to 2016.
"The consensus is that the Fed is going to raise rates pretty slowly and that the economy will be able to absorb those rate hikes," said Giri Cherukuri, head trader at OakBrook Investments LLC, which oversees $1.3 billion in Lisle, Illinois.
"So the first thing next year will be to track the path of that economic growth."
MBIA shares rose 8.17 percent after Puerto Rico's debt-ridden power utility PREPA tentatively agreed to restructure its debt. MBIA is one of PREPA's bond insurers, as is Assured Guaranty, which rose 2.35 percent.
Dow component Nike dipped 1.82 percent from an adjusted close of $64.36 on Wednesday. The stock's 2-for-1 share split comes into effect on Thursday.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,648 to 1,344. On the Nasdaq, 1,516 issues rose and 1,190 fell.
The S&P 500 index showed 11 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 47 new highs and 29 new lows. (Additional reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Chris Reese and Bernadette Baum)