* 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 0.08 pct, S&P off 0.16 pt, Nasdaq up 0.14 pct (Updates to late morning)
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, Feb 26 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks held near the unchanged mark on Thursday in the wake of a mixed bag of economic data, with the Dow and S&P 500 holding just off record highs while the Nasdaq advanced modestly.
U.S. consumer prices fell 0.7 percent in January, the biggest drop since 2008, as gasoline prices tumbled, and weekly jobless claims climbed to 313,000 last week, although durable goods orders rose for last month. The inflation data could provide a cautious Federal Reserve with leeway to keep interest rates low for a bit longer.
The market is “just digesting what we have already received and waiting for what is coming next week to find a better direction of where we are going,” said Gabriela Santos, global market strategist for J.P. Morgan Asset Management in New York.
“We don’t think the market itself has accepted that reality of interest rate hikes in the coming months, so there is a lot of volatility that could come if the messaging starts getting more clear and more aggressive that we could get that rate hike soon.”
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 15 points, or 0.08 percent, to 18,209.57, the S&P 500 lost 3.29 points, or 0.16 percent, to 2,110.57 and the Nasdaq Composite added 7.14 points, or 0.14 percent, to 4,974.28.
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 14.3 percent to $128.77 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 advanced 1 percent to $16.75 after posting quarterly results.
Salesforce.com shares climbed 11.5 percent to $70.08 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 slumped 8 percent to $34.88.
Earnings are expected after the close from Autodesk , Gap Inc, Monster Beverage and Ross Stores.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,637 to 1,220, for a 1.34-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,325 issues rose and 1,133 fell for a 1.17-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting 29 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 82 new highs and 11 new lows.
Editing by Bernadette Baum