The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 106.77 points to 13,000.71. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 11.01 to 1,399.48. The Nasdaq composite slid 32.48 to 3,048.71.
The economic news that did surface Thursday was uninspiring to investors.
The government reported that consumer spending rose in July from June, after a flat June and a decline in May. Separately, retailers like Target Corp., Gap Inc. and Macy's Inc. reported higher-than-expected August sales.
But rather than send stocks up, investors instead worried that the gains were only temporary, driven by back-to-school shopping that will soon peter out.
Gas prices and job prospects, which are key when people decide how much to spend, were not encouraging. Hurricane Isaac helped push the national average price for a gallon of gas to $3.83 from $3.80 Wednesday, according to the AAA. The government reported that the four-week moving average for unemployment claims also ticked higher.
Freeze, from Street One, doubts the jobs picture will improve soon, with so many companies not hiring. He thinks it's disingenuous when they blame their hiring drought on the uncertainty of not knowing who will be president next year.
"They're saying, 'I don't know what my tax situation will be,' or 'I don't know if Obama will be president and I don't want to deal with Obama's health care plan,'" he said. "I think these are just easy excuses for the corporations to use, because quite frankly the production levels and the revenue they're generating don't warrant hiring new employees."
Among the stocks that did make notable moves:
â¿¿Pandora Media Inc. jumped more than 14 percent, rising $1.44 to $11.52. The Internet radio company reported big increases in revenue from advertising, subscriptions, and from listeners accessing the website from mobile devices.
â¿¿TiVo Inc., known for its digital video recorders, fell more than 3 percent, losing 32 cents to $9.04, after reporting a larger quarterly loss and missing analysts' revenue predictions.