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 more than 3 percent, losing 58 cents to $15.71, after it reported a lower profit margin.
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 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.
A few stocks jumped after reports of potential new owners. Sprint Nextel soared more than 14 percent, rising 72 cents to $5.76, after a report that the company could be bought by Softbank, a Japanese cell phone provider. Truck company Oshkosh Corp. jumped more than 7 percent, up $2.05 to $28.90, after activist investor Carl Icahn offered to buy the company.The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell by 0.01 percentage point, to 1.67 percent.