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Wall Street gnawed on a muddle of economic data and corporate earnings news Thursday, then sent stock indexes lower for a second day.
Disappointing April sales results from big retailers set the bleak tone early on. Costco, Macy's and Target, among others, reported sales that were weaker than analysts had predicted. Colder weather and renewed concerns about the economy weighed on shoppers.
GM shares fell 2.4 percent after the automaker said its first-quarter profit declined, mainly because of weakness in Europe.
Fears of a global financial freeze-up caused by the European debt crisis have receded, but many now worry that Europe's recession will hurt sales by American exporters such as GM and Caterpillar. Caterpillar lost 1.9 percent.
European stocks closed mostly lower, giving up earlier gains, after signs that European Central Bank will not inject more cash into the region's fragile banking system.
Trading of U.S. stocks was uneven because investors were "balancing between a weak close for European stocks and trying to bet on what (the monthly jobs report) will look like," said Peter Tchir, who runs the hedge fund TF Market Advisors.
The labor market has been on traders' minds all week because the government's monthly jobs report is due out Friday. The final major indicator before that announcement was positive: The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell last week by the most in three months.
The conflicting economic indicators offered little direction for major U.S. stock indexes. They opened down, rose slightly in the first 15 minutes of trading then turned lower. Eight of the 10 industry groups in the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell. Two rose, but barely.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 61.98 points, or 0.5 percent, to 13,206.59. The S&P 500 dropped 10.74, or 0.8 percent, to 1,391.57. The Nasdaq composite average slid 35.55, or 1.2 percent, to 3,024.30