By The Associated PressU.S. stocks are continuing a two-day slide on weak economic data and concern that the Federal Reserve may cut back its bond-buying program. European stocks were sharply lower after a survey of regional executives showed that business activity slowed in February. Markets were down 2 percent in Germany and France and 3 percent in Italy. In the U.S., the government said more people applied for unemployment benefits last week. The four-week average rose to the highest in six weeks. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 53 points to 13,874 at midday Thursday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped eight to 1,503. The Nasdaq composite lost 26 to 3,138. Wal-Mart Stores rose after beating analysts' profit expectations in the fourth quarter.