NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Declines accelerated on U.S. stock markets mid-morning Thursday as European Central Bank President Mario Draghi remained vague on timing of further quantitative easing plans and after the ECB slashed growth prospects for the eurozone.
"Early next year the Governing Council will reassess the monetary stimulus achieved, the expansion of the balance sheet and the outlook for price developments," Draghi said in a speech.
However, easing plans could come as soon as January, said Anthony Valeri, investment strategist for LPL Financial. "[Draghi's] comments really laid the groundwork for some a QE program to be announced in January," Valeri said in a call.
"Lowering the growth expectations, lowering inflation forecast, some of the cautionary comments he made all suggest that QE is coming. It's been telegraphed in prior meetings but this was the latest and probably strongest voice supporting outright bond purchases."
The central bank cut its 2015 growth forecasts for the region to 1% from a September forecast of 1.6%. Eurozone inflation is expected to come in at 0.7%, down from a previous estimate of 1.1% and far from the ECB's 2% target.
The ECB announced earlier Thursday that it was leaving its key rate unchanged at 0.05%. The ECB, convening for its final meeting of the year, by and large wasn't expected to introduce new stimulus measures. Last month, the central bank announced it had begun to purchase asset-backed securities in a move to stimulate the eurozone, which has suffered from slowing manufacturing and high unemployment.
Crude oil prices were falling again with West Texas Intermediate dropping 0.74% to below $67 a barrel. Major oilers, which had climbed earlier in the week, were falling on Thursday. Exxon Mobil (XOM) slid 1.7%, Chevron (CVX) dropped 1.7% and BP (BP) fell 2.4%.
After hitting new record highs on Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.52% while the S&P 500 fell 0.53%. The Nasdaq was 0.28% lower.
U.S. jobless claims came in just above economists' estimates for a total 295,000. A week earlier, claims climbed above 300,000 for the first time since September. The release comes ahead of the Labor Department's monthly jobs figures on Friday. Economists expect 230,000 jobs to have been added over the month, higher than October's 214,000 total. The unemployment rate is forecast to remain at 5.8%.
Plug Power (PLUG) announced a multi-year contract worth $20 million with an undisclosed telecom company, sending shares surging 9%. Supermarket chain Kroger (KR) reported an 11% jump in revenue to $25 billion and beat analysts' earnings estimates. Shares rose 3%.
Sears (SHLD) were down 3.6% after reporting a third-quarter loss of $2.71 a share, narrower than forecast, and revenue down nearly 13%. Barnes & Noble (BKS) fell more than 12% after revenue slipped 2.3% year over year. The book retailer said it would purchase Microsoft's (MSFT) stake in its Nook Media unit for $62.4 million in cash and 2.7 million shares.
-- Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.