US STOCKS-Wall St flat toward quarter end; payrolls eyed

 * Jobless claims fall, views upbeat for Friday's payrolls
 * Volume likely to be low on quarter's last day
 * Berkshire Class B shares fall after Sokol's resignation
 * Dow up 0.04 pct, S&P up 0.01 pct, Nasdaq off 0.04 pct
 * For up-to-the-minute market news see [STXNEWS/US]
 (Updates to midday, changes byline)
 By Chuck Mikolajczak
 NEW YORK, March 31 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little
changed on Thursday as a middling reading on jobless claims
failed to dent expectations about Friday's U.S. payrolls
report for March as the quarter quietly draws to a close.
 Initial claims for unemployment benefits slipped to
388,000 last week, compared with the 380,000 that economists
had expected. But the government's data showed the trend of
labor market improvement is intact. For details, see
[ID:nN31253973]
 The data comes a day after an encouraging ADP
private-sector jobs report and precedes Friday's closely
watched monthly employment report from the U.S. Labor
Department. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters estimate that
non-farm payrolls added 190,000 jobs in March.
 "Non-farm payrolls tomorrow is big -- 200,000 to 205,000
is probably the level that is being priced in right now," said
 Max Bublitz, chief investment strategist at SCM Advisors in
San Francisco.
 "We all freak out over the first number and kind of ignore
the revisions but the fact is it is a very noisy number, and
it's a little bit of a crapshoot."
 The week has been marked by some of the year's lowest
volumes as traders opt to ride the quarter's gainers, pushing
the S&P 500 up 5.5 percent in the quarter.
 But the benchmark S&P has been unable to hold gains around
1,330, a level that the index has been unable to break through
despite several attempts in the past month.
 "We are bouncing off that 1,332 level, which was kind of a
double off the (March 2009) lows. We've struggled with it at
times and it's been kind of a grind here," Bublitz said.
 The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI: Quote, Profile, Research) rose 5.34 points,
or 0.04 percent, to 12,355.95. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index
(.SPX: Quote, Profile, Research) inched up 0.18 of a point, or 0.01 percent, to
1,328.45. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC: Quote, Profile, Research) shed 1.22 points,
or 0.04 percent, to 2,775.57.
 Berkshire Hathaway's Class B shares (BRKb.N: Quote, Profile, Research) fell 1.9
percent to $83.84 a day after the resignation of David Sokol,
the man widely seen as the leading successor to Warren Buffett
to run Berkshire. Sokol resigned after Buffett revealed that
Sokol had bought shares in chemical company Lubrizol Corp
(LZ.N: Quote, Profile, Research) before pushing Buffett to acquire it.
 In an interview on CNBC, Sokol said he did nothing wrong
in buying the shares. [ID:nN30189928] [ID:nN31227596]
 Retailers ranked among the worst performers, dragged lower
by Carmax Inc (KMX.N: Quote, Profile, Research), which lost 7.4 percent to $32.02 after
posting fourth-quarter earnings. The S&P Retail index (.RLX: Quote, Profile, Research)
lost almost 1 percent, while the Morgan Stanley retail index
(.MVR: Quote, Profile, Research) dropped 1.2 percent. [ID:nL3E7EV27F]
 The Institute for Supply Management-Chicago said its index
of Midwest business activity fell in March to 70.6 from 71.2
in February. The reading was near economists' expectations and
stocks reacted little. [ID:nDZE7DS00A]
 (Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)








US STOCKS-Wall St flat toward quarter end; payrolls eyed