* June ADP employment number rises to 172,000 vs est 159,000
* Oil prices drop more than 3 pct; Exxon, Chevron fall
* Dow down 0.16 pct, S&P down 0.06 pct, Nasdaq up 0.21 pcts (Updates to early afternoon)
By Yashaswini Swamynathan
July 7 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 and the Dow fluctuated between small gains and losses, while the Nasdaq pared some gains on Thursday, as the impact of strong labor market data was offset by a drop in oil prices.
Oil prices fell more than 3 percent, wiping out early gains after the U.S. government reported a weekly crude draw that was within analysts’ forecasts, while market optimists expected larger declines.
Exxon and Chevron fell about 1 percent.
Investors will keenly watch for Friday’s payrolls report, especially after a shockingly weak May report raised concerns about the recovery of the economy and threw the Fed off track from its plans to raise rates in the near term.
U.S. private payrolls increased more than expected in June and fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, suggesting a rebound in job growth after May’s paltry gains.
“Investors are marking their time ahead of the jobs data,” said Terry Sandven, chief equities strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “The wall of worry has been under full construction since the May jobs data, so tomorrow’s report will either suggest that the number was an anomaly or provide evidence of a weakening economy.”
While the cautious Fed is not expected to raise interest rates anytime soon, strong economic data will give the central bank reasons for its next move when it meets on July 26-27.
At 12:44 p.m. ET (1644 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 28.25 points, or 0.16 percent, at 17,890.37.
The S&P 500 was down 1.17 points, or 0.06 percent, at 2,098.56. The index is just 36 points away from its all-time high.
The Nasdaq Composite was up 10.26 points, or 0.21 percent, at 4,869.42.
PepsiCo’s shares rose 2 percent to $108.14 after the company reported a better-than-expected second-quarter profit and raised its full-year profit forecast.
Costco rose 4.7 percent to $163.3 after the company reported strong June comparable sales. Apple rose 0.7 percent to $96.18.
The three stocks were among the top influences on the S&P and the Nasdaq.
Six of the 10 major S&P indexes were higher, with the materials index’s 0.46 percent rise leading the advancers.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,649 to 1,275. On the Nasdaq, 1,500 issues rose and 1,182 fell.
The S&P 500 index showed 34 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 56 new highs and 18 new lows. (Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Don Sebastian)