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US STOCKS-Wall St struggles for direction as Congress wrangles over stimulus

Medha Singh and Ambar Warrick

(For a live blog on the U.S. stock market, click or type LIVE/ in a news window)

* Weekly jobless claims fall more than expected

* Western Digital sinks after soft outlook

* Becton Dickinson tumbles as lockdowns hit medical devices demand

* Dow flat, S&P down 0.18%, Nasdaq dips 0.09% (Adds quote, details; updates prices)

By Medha Singh and Ambar Warrick

Aug 6 (Reuters) - Major U.S. stock averages treaded water on Thursday as investors awaited a new fiscal aid package to prop up the country's economy, with data showing 31.3 million Americans were receiving unemployment checks in mid-July.

Still, the tech-heavy Nasdaq clinched a new record high in early trading. The benchmark S&P 500 and blue-chip Dow were about 2% and 8% away from their own peaks scaled in February.

Economic data released on Thursday painted a mixed picture as Labor Department numbers showed a first fall in jobless claims in three weeks, while a separate report showed a 54% surge in job cuts announced by employers in July.

The focus now shifts to the monthly jobs report on Friday.

"The (stocks) treading water might be waiting for tomorrow's actual number... The other most important thing that's going on is the stimulus bill, and the lack of agreement between the White House and the Democratic party as to what the deal ought to include," said Tom Martin, senior portfolio manager at GLOBALT Investments in Atlanta.

Top congressional Democrats and White House officials will try again on Thursday to find a compromise on major issues including the size of a federal benefit for the unemployed as they work towards a relief legislation.

But Wall Street's main indexes are set for a second straight weekly gain, powered by heaps of fiscal and monetary stimulus and better-than-feared second-quarter earnings.

At 11:33 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 4.10 points, or 0.02%, at 27,197.42, the S&P 500 was down 5.92 points, or 0.18%, at 3,321.85. The Nasdaq Composite was down 9.39 points, or 0.09%, at 10,989.01.

Healthcare shares fell the most among major S&P sectors.

Among individual shares, Becton Dickinson and Co dropped 9.1% after posting quarterly revenue below estimates as delayed elective procedures during coronavirus-led lockdowns squeezed demand for some of its devices.

Western Digital sank 15.7% after the hard drive maker reported weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter revenue and forecast a soft current quarter.

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co gained 2.5% after the drugmaker raised its annual profit forecast on hopes of a recovery in demand for its hospital-administered drugs.

ViacomCBS Inc jumped 5.0% after beating analysts' estimates for quarterly revenue due to high demand for streaming.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.26-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and for a 1.59-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 20 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 128 new highs and three new lows. (Reporting by Medha Singh and Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr and Uttaresh.V)