NEW YORK -- Disappointing news from retailers helped nudge the stock market lower Thursday afternoon. If the Standard & Poor's 500 index ends the day down, it would extend a weak start to 2014, with five declines in the first six trading days.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 42 points, or 0.3 percent, to 16,420 as of 2:15 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow fell as much as 84 points earlier in the day. The S&P 500 eased three points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,833 and the Nasdaq composite lost 17 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,147.
MACY'S CUTS: Macy's rose $3.81, or 7 percent, to $55.65 after the department store chain late Wednesday said it would eliminate 2,500 jobs as part of a reorganization that aims to save $100 million a year. The company also forecast a 2014 profit that was above Wall Street's forecasts.
TROUBLE IN RETAIL: Bed Bath & Beyond plunged $10.06 or 13 percent, to $69.62 and Family Dollar fell $2.55, or 4 percent, to $63.77 after cutting their earnings forecasts following a disappointing holiday season. Bed Bath & Beyond fell the most in the S&P 500 index, and Family Dollar was among the top 10 decliners.
WHERE'S THE SPENDING? "The consumers are supposed to be the fuel of this economy, and it doesn't appear to be happening," said Ian Winer, director of trading for Wedbush Securities. "If they're not spending money at the retailers, what's going on?"
THE ECONOMY: The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell by 15,000 last week to 330,000. The drop was slightly bigger than economists predicted, according to FactSet. The claims report sets the stage for the government jobs report for December. Economists expect employers added 196,000 jobs last month.
FORD DIVIDEND: Ford rose 35 cents, or 2 percent, to $15.89 after the company announced it was increasing its quarterly dividend to 12.5 cents per share, up from 10 cents per share. The increase comes a day after the stock gained 1 percent on news that Ford's widely respected CEO, Alan Mulally, would not leave to run Microsoft.
EARNINGS SEASON: Thursday marks the beginning of third-quarter earnings releases for U.S. companies. Alcoa, an aluminum maker and former Dow component, will report its earnings after the closing bell. Alcoa was already in the news earlier Thursday, falling 17 cents, or 2 percent, to $10.66 on word that an Alcoa subsidiary will plead guilty and pay $384 million for paying bribes to the Middle Eastern Kingdom of Bahrain.