* Jobless claims rise less than expected
* Altera/Intel deal reportedly called off, shares dip
* Indexes down: Dow 0.3 pct; S&P 0.2 pct, Nasdaq 0.2 pct (Adds comment, updates prices)
By Tanya Agrawal
April 9 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks fell slightly in choppy trading on Thursday after initial jobless claims rose less than expected, suggesting the abrupt slowdown in job growth in March could be temporary.
The market has lately struggled to digest economic data, since strong numbers would back the idea that the Federal Reserve should begin raising interest rates. Weak data, on the other hand, could mean the economic slowdown in the first quarter was not just weather related.
The energy sector helped buoy the market with a 0.6 percent gain on the back of a rebound in crude futures prices.
Stocks are struggling to find direction because investors are caught between the angst of losing the support Fed policy has given the market and having few other options regarding where to put their money, said Tim Rudderow, president and chief investment officer at Mount Lucas Management in Newtown, Pennsylvania.
“It’s a very difficult argument to make that I should take my money out of the stock market,” he said, adding that stocks will likely tread water even through earnings season.
Alcoa shares fell 4.9 percent to $13.00 after revenue lagged analysts’ estimates in the first quarter.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 47.58 points, or 0.27 percent, to 17,854.93, the S&P 500 lost 4.17 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,077.73 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 9.05 points, or 0.18 percent, to 4,941.77.
Initial claims for unemployment benefits rose 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 285,000.
Altera shares fell 1 percent to $41.57 after CNBC, citing sources, reported that Intel dropped its takeover offer after the two companies could not agree on a price. Intel shares were down less than 0.1 percent.
Walgreen shares gained 3 percent to $90.33 after the company reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit and said it would close about 200 stores in the United States as part of a restructuring plan aimed at cutting costs and streamlining its businesses.
Shares of Zynga lost 14.5 percent to $2.48 after announcing on Wednesday that Chief Executive Don Mattrick will step down and founder Mark Pincus will return to head the company.
U.S.-traded shares of Novogen jumped 28.2 percent to $5.78 after the Australian drug company said studies confirmed a potential drug to treat a type of skin cancer.
Taser added 7.4 percent to $27.03 after the body-worn camera manufacturer said it received its first significant order from the London police department.
Editing by Bernadette Baum and Meredith Mazzilli