Already this week, the aluminum manufacturer Alcoa kicked off the third-quarter earnings season with a disappointing loss. Thursday, shares of grocery store Safeway slipped 3 percent, losing 51 cents to $15.78, after it reported a lower profit margin. Restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday dipped 9 cents to $6.93 after reporting lower profit late Wednesday.
And that was on top of a stream of separate negative developments Thursday. Among them: The Commerce Department reported that foreign demand declined for American-made cars and farm goods. In Germany, economic researchers predicted the country's growth would slow, and warned that patience for bailing out weaker European countries was evaporating. Unemployment in Greece, one of the countries surviving on bailouts, hit a record high of just more than 25 percent. And the Standard & Poor's ratings agency late Wednesday cut its rating on Spain's debt to just one level above junk status.
In Tokyo, where the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were meeting, IMF chief Christine Lagarde warned that the global economic recovery is weaker than many had expected. She called for urgent action to fix Europe's debt problems and an approaching fiscal crisis in the U.S.
Even the jobs news wasn't enough to persuade everyone. The Labor Department said that weekly applications for unemployment aid fell to their lowest level since February 2008, before the financial crisis. But the unemployment rate is still much higher than it was then â¿¿ 7.8 percent, compared with 4.9 percent in February 2008. The labor force participation rate is also lower, meaning some unemployed workers have simply given up looking for work, which can make the jobless numbers seem better than they really are.One stock that made a big move up was Sprint Nextel. Shares soared 15 percent, rising 76 cents to $5.80, after a report that the company could be bought by Softbank, a Japanese cell phone provider.