* Jobless claims rose unexpectedly last week
* S&P 500 up 1 pct for year
* Indexes: Dow -0.18 pct, S&P -0.23 pct, Nasdaq -0.06 pct (Updates to afternoon)
By Noel Randewich
March 31 (Reuters) - Wall Street was set to end the first quarter with a whimper on Thursday after a month-long rally that rescued the S&P 500 from its worst start to a year since 2009.
Worries about a troubled global economy caused a steep selloff in stocks in January, before a rebound in plummeting oil prices cleared the way for a 7-percent recovery the S&P through March that has left the index up 1 percent for 2016.
But Thursday's trading was subdued, with all three major indexes edging lower after three days of gains, even as some fund managers snapped up stocks ahead of the end of the end of March and the quarter.
"A lot of people are trying to hold the market up here because it's going to give everyone a break," said Phil Blancato, head of Ladenburg Thalmann Asset Management in New York. "We were under immense pressure in January and February to warrant our existence. Clients are going to start getting frustrated by muted returns from equities and fixed income."
Data on Thursday showed U.S. jobless claims rose unexpectedly last week but remained well below the 300,000 mark, denoting a healthy labor market.
Friday's critical U.S. non-farm payrolls report will provide investors a clearer reading on the economy.
Crude oil rose slightly, hovering near $40 a barrel.
At 2:30 pm, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.18 percent at 17,684.65 points and the S&P 500 had lost 0.23 percent to 2,059.27.
The Nasdaq Composite edged down 0.06 percent to 4,866.44.
Eight of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower, with a 0.4 percent decline in the materials sector weighing most.
Investors' nerves were soothed this week by U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's comments that the central bank should be cautious about raising interest rates.
Investors are also concerned about tepid corporate earnings growth and will keep a close eye on the quarterly reports that start rolling in next month.
Shares of Best Buy added 3.1 percent after Barclays initiated coverage of the stock with an "overweight" rating.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,646 to 1,324. On the Nasdaq, 1,487 issues rose and 1,270 fell.
The S&P 500 index showed 34 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 47 new highs and 18 new lows. (Additional reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Zieminski)