NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Stocks extended heavy losses by late Thursday morning as investors eagerly awaited a speech from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen after markets close.

The S&P 500 was down 1.3%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.5%, and the Nasdaq slid 1.5%.

Yellen will cap off the day with a speech at the University of Massachusetts at 5 p.m. Her comments will focus on "inflation dynamics and monetary policy," both of which investors will be keen to scrutinize for clues as to when the first rate hike in nearly a decade might occur.

"What I'm seeing is more skittishness about Fed action," Tim Dreiling, senior portfolio manager at U.S. Bank's Private Client Reserve, told TheStreet on the day's big losses.Dreiling added that investors need more "clarity" on what the Fed intends to do before markets calm down from big swings. 

The housing market continued to showcase its robust recovery after new home sales in August jumped 5.7% to an annual rate of 552,000. July home sales were revised up to 522,000 from 505,000. Economists had expected an annual rate of 517,000 in August. 

Caterpillar (CAT) - Get Report shares were the worst performer on the Dow, falling 6.2% after the company said it expects to cut 4,000 to 5,000 jobs by the end of 2016. The total number of job cuts could amount to 10,000 by the end of 2018. The industrial machinery company also lowered full-year sales forecasts by $1 billion to $48 billion.

U.S. durable goods orders dropped 2% in August after a downwardly revised 1.9% increase in July. The drop was as expected, driven by weakened demand for aircraft. Excluding transportation, orders were unchanged but below estimates for a 0.3% increase.

Initial jobless claims edged up 3,000 to 267,000 over the week ended Sept. 19. Economists had expected the number of new claims for unemployment benefits to increase to 270,000.

Stocks had their first relatively calm session in weeks on Wednesday. Benchmark indexes moved within a narrow range with little commitment to any direction after crude oil slumped and U.S. and Chinese manufacturing came in weaker than expected.

Volkswagen (VLKAY) CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned on Wednesday in the wake of a massive emissions scandal. Resignations from board members are expected to come, according to Dow Jones. A chief executive successor will be named on Friday. Earlier this week, the German automaker admitted that more than 11 million diesel vehicles had software that gamed emissions tests. Shares have now fallen 55% from a March peak.

Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report has signed a deal with Baidu (BIDU) - Get Report to make the Chinese search engine a default home page for Chinese users of Microsoft's Edge browser. The deal came as China President Xi Jinping met with technology executives in the U.S. on Wednesday.

Wal-Mart (WMT) - Get Report is reportedly seeking price cuts from suppliers in China of at least 2% to 6%, arguing that the retailer should share in the savings following China's devaluation of the yuan. The price cuts will likely be for general merchandise such as apparel, appliances, electronics and toys.

KB Home (KBH) - Get Report fell 3.5% despite a better-than-expected third quarter. The homebuilder earned 23 cents a share, a penny above estimates, while total sales surged 43% to $843.16 million. KB Home reported a 25% increase in homes delivered over the quarter. 

Steelcase (SCS) - Get Report shares were up nearly 5% after the business furniture company earned 35 cents a share in its second quarter, 3 cents above estimates. Quarterly revenue climbed 4.1% to $819 million and exceeded forecasts.

Worthington Industries (WOR) - Get Report shares were down 4% after the steel mill missed revenue estimates. The company reported total sales down 12.1% to $758.15 million, driven by a drop in commodity prices.

Adhesive company HB Fuller (FUL) - Get Report slid 7% after missing quarterly forecasts on its top- and bottom-lines. Earnings of 61 cents a share fell short of expectations by 9 cents a share, while revenue of $524.13 million missed by $13 million.