U.S. stocks continued a two-day slide Thursday on weak economic data and concern about the Federal Reserve’s resolve to keep juicing the economy.
Signaling the U.S. labor market remains in slow recovery mode, the government said more people applied for unemployment benefits last week. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to the highest in six weeks.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 46.92 points, or 0.3 percent, at 13,880.62.
The S&P 500 index dropped 9.53, or 0.6 percent, to 1,502.42. The S&P is headed for its first weekly loss of the year. The Nasdaq composite index lost 32.92, or 1 percent, to 3,131.49.
In Europe, markets closed sharply lower after a monthly survey of European executives showed business activity in the European Union slowed in February, a strong signal a downturn that began last year will continue into 2013. Benchmark indexes lost 2.3 percent in France, 1.9 percent in Germany, and 1.6 percent in Britain.
Wal-Mart Stores rose after beating analysts’ profit forecasts in the fourth quarter. However, the biggest retailer warned of a slow start to the year. It gained $1.05, or 1.5 percent, to $70.26.
After a strong start to the holiday season, Wal-Mart said, the first three weeks of December were weak, and business has been volatile since then. The company attributed some of the weakness to a delay in tax refund checks that have left people strapped for cash. Wal-Mart’s customers also have less money to spend because a temporary payroll tax cut expired in December.
Supermarket chain Safeway was the biggest gainer in the S&P 500, rising $2.84, or 14.1 percent, to $22.97 after saying its net income jumped 13 percent in the fourth quarter, helped by higher gift and prepaid card revenue.