5 things to know before the stock market opens Thursday

Here are the most important news, trends and analysis that investors need to start their trading day:

1. Wall Street looks flat after a bright spot in a tough month

People walk by the New York Stock Exchange, August 9, 2021.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

U.S. stock futures were flat Thursday after stronger-than-expected retail sales data. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 on Wednesday rallied for their second gain in the past eight sessions. The Nasdaq broke a five-session losing streak. Ahead of Thursday’s open on Wall Street, the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq were all down during the historically rough month of September. The Dow was 2.3% away from its Aug. 16 closing record. The S&P 500 was more than 1.2% from its Sept. 2 closing record. The Nasdaq was 1.4% away from its Sept. 7 closing record.

2. Investors digest stronger retail sales, weaker jobless claims picture

Retail sales posted a surprise gain in August despite fears that escalating Covid cases and supply chain issues would hold back consumers. Sales increased 0.7% for the month compared with estimates of a 0.8% decline. In a separate report, initial jobless claims for the week ended Sept. 11 came in higher than expected, rising to 332,000 from the prior week’s pandemic-era low, which was revised slightly higher to 312,000. Investors are looking at Thursday’s data for signals on how the economy is weathering Covid and how that might figure into the Federal Reserve‘s thoughts on when to start tapering bond purchases. Central bankers are set to hold their two-day September meeting next week.

3. Much of September losses historically come in back of month

A screen shows Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell speak as a trader works inside a post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), August 27, 2021.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

The Fed’s policy statement next Wednesday and Fed chief Jerome Powell’s news conference are wild cards during an already particularly weak period for stocks. Historically, the bulk of September’s losses come in the back half of the month. In fact, it appears the S&P 500 usually peaks around the 17th day of the month, which is this Friday. CNBC’s Jim Cramer and others on Wall Street have warned about this pattern. So far in September, the index was down nearly 1%. The Dow and Nasdaq, for the month, were down 1.5% and 0.6%, respectively. However, year to date, the S&P 500 was up nearly 19.3%; the Dow was up over 13.7%; and the Nasdaq was up 17.6%.

4. FDA strikes cautious tone ahead of vaccine booster meeting

Vials and a medical syringe seen displayed in front of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States logo. FDA finds the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pavlo Gonchar | LightRocket | Getty Images

5. Southwest Airlines unveils new Covid vaccine incentives for staff

A passenger aircraft operated by American Airlines Group Inc. lands at Miami International Airport in Miami, Florida, U.S., on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

Eva Marie Uzcategui | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Southwest Airlines has introduced new incentives to get staff vaccinated against Covid. The Dallas-based carrier will offer extra pay to workers who show proof of full vaccination by mid-November, according to a company memo, which was reviewed by CNBC. U.S. airlines have taken varying approaches to get staff vaccinated. United has required its roughly 67,000-person U.S. workforce to be vaccinated, saying it will put staff who receive religious exemptions on temporary unpaid leave. Delta Air Lines plans to charge unvaccinated employees $200 more per month for company health insurance starting in November.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow all the market action like a pro on CNBC Pro. Get the latest on the pandemic with CNBC’s coronavirus coverage.