Stocks skidded Thursday after a report showed an unexpected rise in jobless claims last week.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down more than 30 points at the start, after eking out a modest gain in the previous session.
Bank of America , Microsoft and American Express were among the biggest drags on the Dow, while Caterpillar was among the handful of gainers.
First-time claims for unemployment benefits rose by 19,000 last week to 479,000, the highest since early April. Economists had expected claims to drop by 2,000.
Another encouraging sign for the media industry: Viacom profit rose 52 percent as global revenue rose and expenses fell. This came after News Corp, Time Warner and CBS all delivered solid earnings reports that showed an increase in ad revenue.
Health insurer Cigna saw its profit drop 32 percent, though the company raised its full-year outlook.
After the bell today, Kraft Foods earnings are due out.
Retail stocks were mostly lower as sales were sluggishin July, with most chains falling short of expectations. Some chains reported modest sales increases from last summer's anemic levels but several said that was only after offering discounts and sales.
With many teens still unemployed, teen chains like The Buckle and Hot Topic took a hit.
Macy's and JCPenney shares fell, while Gap and Target rose.
Verizon Communications and Google agreed to a deal over how Internet traffic will be treated, two people familiar with the agreement said on Wednesday.
IBM and Aetna on Thursday jointly launched a service aimed at helping hospitals improve patient care by making better use of electronic medical records and other digital data.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to pass a proxy access rule that would give large shareholders the right to directly nominate directors on corporate ballots alongside the company's choices, with the cost being borne by the company, the Wall Street Journal said.
The risks of the U.S. economy entering a double-dip recession and falling into deflation may now be around one in four, the chief executive of PIMCO, the world's biggest bond investment manager, said on Thursday.
The dollar rose on Thursday, recovering as investors unwound bets against the currency thanks to some better signs on the economy ahead of key U.S. non-farm payrolls figures on Friday.
Oil fell for a second day on Thursday, approaching $82, as dollar strength kept a lid on prices, neutralizing the effect of upbeat U.S. employment data and a drop in the nation's crude inventories last week.
U.S. stocks rose in thin trade on Wednesday boosted by retailers' earnings and a report showing a slight improvement in private employment, ahead of Friday's payrolls report.
European shares were higher in morning trade on Thursday ahead of rate decisions by the European Central Bank and the Bank of England and Friday's crucial U.S. jobs data.
Still to Come:
THURSDAY: Fed hearing on new mortgage regulations; Earnings from Kraft after the bell
FRIDAY: Fed hearing on new bank regulations; July jobs report; consumer credit
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