"Investors want to get through some more earnings and then decide if growth is commensurate with valuations," Quincy Krosby, a market strategist at Prudential Financial told the Wall Street Journal.
Citigroup and Best Buy retreated on reports that came in shy of expectations. On the Dow Jones industrial average, financial giant Goldman Sachs and UnitedHealth fell on disappointing fourth quarter reports.
Nineteen of 30 Dow components retreated Thursday.
The DJIA gave up 64.93 points or 0.39 percent to 16,417.01. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 2.49 or 0.13 percent to 1,845.89.
The Nasdaq composite index gained 3.80 points, 0.09 percent, to close at 4,218.69.
On the New York Stock Exchange, 1,778 issues advanced and 1,312 declined on a volume of 3.4 billion shares traded.
In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index lost 61.23 points, 0.39 percent, to 15,747.20.
In Europe, London's FTSE 100 shed 4.44 points, 0.07 percent, to 6,815.42.
The 10-year U.S. treasury was yielding 2.845 percent, up 14/32.
The euro traded lower at $1.362 and the dollar was lower against the yen at 104.31 yen.
Gold gained $3.90 to hit $1,242.20 an ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. Silver lost 3.4 cents to reach $20.10.
Crude oil was steady at $94.17 per barrel.
On the Chicago Board of Trade, March corn gained 1 cent to $4.2675 per bushel. Soybeans shed 3 cents to $13.15. Wheat added 4.25 cents to $5.72.