Stocks end near lows, Dow skids 200; major averages lower for August

Stocks finished near their session lows Thursday, with the Dow dropping more than 200 points, as bond yields jumped to their highest level in two years and as the market continued to gauge when the Federal Reserve might start to reduce its asset purchases.

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The major indexes posted their biggest two-day losses since June. Meanwhile, the 10-year Treasury yield jumped to 2.82 percent, its highest level in two years, before pulling back to 2.75 percent.

"A lot of uncertainty creates volatility," said Todd Salamone, director of research at Schaeffer's Investment Research. "We had some bellwether names with disappointing earnings, and economic data that sparked tapering worries. We also broke below a support level on the S&P 500 at 1,685, which is the level where we entered August and the peak back in May."

S&P 500

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 225.47 points, or 1.47 percent, to close at 15,112.19, dragged down by a 7 percent drop in Cisco. The blue-chip index fell through its 50-day moving average and is on track for its biggest weekly drop in nearly four months.

The S&P 500 dropped 24.07 points, or 1.43 percent, to end at 1,661.32. And the Nasdaq fell 63.16 points, or 1.72 percent, to finish at 3,606.12.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, shot near 15.

All key S&P sectors closed firmly in negative territory, led by techs and consumer discretionary.

Volume was slightly heavier than usual. Nearly 6.4 billion shares traded hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, above the average daily closing volume of about 6.3 billion this year, according to data from Reuters.

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"The S&P's tight range of the last 13 trading days bounded by 1,709 to 1,682 has been clearly broken," wrote Elliot Spar, market strategist at Stifel Nicolaus. "The decline of the last few days is the averages catching up on the downside to the correction that many leading sectors and stocks have been going through for the last two months. I expect the 1,650 area on the S&P to stem this decline."

On the economic front, manufacturing growth in New York state and the mid-Atlantic region weakened in August, according to the New York Federal Reserve and the Philadelphia Federal Reserve. And industrial production was unchanged in July as a decline in manufacturing output and utilities counteracted an uptick in mining activity, according to the Federal Reserve.

Consumer prices edged up 0.2 percent in July, matching expectations, according to the Labor Department.

On the upside, weekly jobless claims fell 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 320,000, hitting the lowest level in nearly six years, according to the Labor Department. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a reading of 335,000.

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And homebuilder confidence rose near an eight-year high in August, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Homebuilders including Lennar and DRHorton turned higher following the report.

Earlier, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard reiterated his comments from Wednesday that the central bank should wait for further evidence that the economy is firming before winding down its asset-purchase program.

"The committee still needs to see more data on macroeconomic performance from the second half of 2013 before making a judgement in this matter," said Bullard in prepared remarks at an event hosted by the St. Louis Fed.

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Among earnings, Wal-Mart Stores declined after the world's largest retailer reported disappointing quarterly sales and cut its outlook for the year.

Kohl's climbed even after the department store chain forecast current-quarter earnings below expectations after reporting a decline in second-quarter profit.

Cisco Systems posted earnings and revenue that edged above Wall Street expectations but shares tumbled heavily after the network equipment maker said it would cut 4,000 jobs in the face of uncertain demand for its products. Analysts were mixed on the stock: at least three brokerages cut their price targets for the company, while two firms lifted their targets.

Dell, Applied Materials and Nordstrom are among notable companies slated to post earnings after the closing bell.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway sharply reduced its holdings of Kraft Foods and Mondelez during the second quarter, according to Berkshire's quarterly filing with the SEC. Kraft Foods and Mondelez were created by a split up for Kraft Foods last October.

Meanwhile, Berkshire raised its stake in automaker General Motors to 40 million shares and reported a new stake in satellite television provider Dish Network of nearly 550,000 shares, worth approximately $24 million.

Apple was stuck below $500 after breaking above that level on Wednesday for the first time since January. RBC raised its target price on the iPhone maker to $525 from $475.

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—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)

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