"The data was good, but not robust enough to completely eliminate doubts over whether the first quarter was entirely weather-related," said Anthony Valeri, an investment strategist for LPL Financial.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.27 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,883.68. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 21.97 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,558.87. The Dow closed at an all-time high on Wednesday. The Nasdaq composite rose 12.90 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,127.45.
Investors' reaction to the economic reports was also likely muted ahead of Friday's April jobs report, Valeri said. Economists are predicting U.S. employers added 210,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate dipped to 6.6 percent from 6.7 percent.
On Thursday, stocks moved between small gains and losses for most of the day as investors also assessed the latest round of company earnings and reports of a potential deal.
DirecTV climbed $3.16, or 4.1 percent, to $80.76 after The Wall Street Journal reported that AT&T had approached the satellite TV provider about a possible acquisition. A deal would likely be worth about $40 billion, the Journal reported. The report came after news Wednesday that power company Exelon agreed to buy Pepco Holdings for $6.8 billion.
"That corporate balance sheet, which was very conservative for a while, is starting to unlock," said Jerry Braakman, chief investment officer of First American Trust.
In earnings news, Avon Products slumped $1.56, or 10.2 percent, to $13.72 after the beauty products company said its first-quarter loss widened, stung by volatile currency moves in Venezuela and weak revenue across all regions. Profit and revenue fell short of Wall Street expectations.
MasterCard and Yelp were among the companies that gained after reporting their latest quarterly earnings.
MasterCard rose 67 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $74.22 after the company reported that its net income climbed 14 percent in the first quarter as more spending by cardholders worldwide lifted the company's results.
Yelp rose $5.70, or 9.8 percent, to $64.02 after the company said late Wednesday that its first-quarter loss narrowed as more local businesses signed up for the online review site's services. The results were better than the market expected, and the company raised its revenue guidance for the year.
Overall, the trend in U.S. company earnings has been steady, if not spectacular, improvement.
More than 60 percent of the companies in the S&P 500 have reported earnings for the first quarter. Analysts expect earnings for the period to rise by 1.7 percent, compared with growth of almost 8 percent in the fourth quarter and 5.2 percent in the same period a year ago, according to data from S&P Capital IQ.
"There's a lot of noise around the trend, but the trend is positive ... Earnings are coming in OK, and that makes me happy," said Karyn Cavanaugh, senior market strategist at Voya Investment Management. "Investors need to get into this market."
Treasury prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.61 percent from 2.65 percent, and is close to its lowest level of the year.