* Initial claims climb in latest week
* CPI posts biggest drop since 2008
* Durable goods orders top expectations
* Salesforce.com climbs after results, outlook
* Indexes: Dow off 0.1 pct, S&P off 0.09 pt, Nasdaq up 0.04 pct (Adds quote, data)
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, Feb 26 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Thursday in the wake of a mixed bag of economic data, with the Dow and S&P 500 holding just below record highs.
Weekly jobless claims rose to 313,000 last week, above the 290,000 forecast and 283,000 in the previous week. Durable goods orders rose 2.8 percent in January, topping the 1.7 percent estimate.
U.S. consumer prices in January fell 0.7 percent, the biggest drop since 2008, as gasoline prices tumbled. The data could provide ammunition to a cautious Federal Reserve to keep interest rates low for a bit longer.
“It all kind of neutralized itself,” said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas.
“The market just seems very confused as to whether it should be reacting to the prospect of lower rates for longer or the prospect that we can handle rates because the economy is doing well.”
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 18.5 points, or 0.1 percent, to 18,206.07, the S&P 500 lost 1.89 points, or 0.09 percent, to 2,111.97 and the Nasdaq Composite added 2.02 points, or 0.04 percent, to 4,969.15.
A decline in shares of Apple tilted the S&P 500 and Nasdaq slightly into the red on Wednesday, while the Dow managed to edge up to a new record in the wake of testimony by U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to a House of Representatives committee that yielded little insight into the timing of an interest rate hike.
After a sluggish start to the year, equities have rebounded sharply in February. Both the Dow and S&P 500 are on track for their best monthly performance since October 2011, while the Nasdaq is on pace for its best month since January 2012.
Avago Technologies jumped 10.9 percent to $125 as the best performer on both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 index after the company reached a deal to acquire Emulex for $8 per share. Emulex shares surged 26.1 percent to $8.02.
Transocean shares gained 4.4 percent to $16.75 after posting quarterly results.
Salesforce.com shares climbed 10.1 percent to $69.24 after the cloud software company reported quarterly earnings and raised its full-year revenue forecast.
Sears Holdings reported a narrower quarterly loss as it continued to slash costs and said it would launch a planned property trust by June, raising at least $2 billion for the struggling U.S. retailer. Its shares lost 6.6 percent to $35.38.
Earnings are expected after the close from Autodesk , Gap Inc, Monster Beverage and Ross Stores.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,459 to 1,166, for a 1.25-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,108 issues rose and 1,027 fell for a 1.08-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The benchmark S&P 500 index posted 13 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 39 new highs and 6 new lows.
Editing by Bernadette Baum