Dow Posts 4-Day Decline; Apple Drops 2%

Stocks recovered from their lows but still finished in negative territory in a choppy session Thursday following a batch of negative economic reports and as investors remained worried over the looming "fiscal cliff."

With the recent declines, the Dow and S&P 500 are on pace for their biggest monthly losses since May. And all three major indexes have plunged more than 5 percent since last week's presidential election.

S&P 500

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 28.57 points, or 0.23 percent, to close at 12,542.38, falling for the fourth-consecutive session. Wal-Mart led the blue-chip laggards, while Cisco ose.

The S&P 500 erased 2.16 points, or 0.16 percent, to finish at 1,353.33. The Nasdaq down 9.87 points, or 0.35 percent, to end at 2,836.94.

The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, ended at 18. (Read More: Stocks Sink, So Why Isn't Volatility Spiking?)

Among the key S&P sectors, telecoms and utilities dragged, while financials eked out a gain.

On the economic front, factory activity in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region unexpectedly contracted in November as the business activity index dropped to minus 10.7, according to the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank.

The Empire state manufacturing activity index gained to minus 5.22 in November, according to the New York Federal Reserve Bank. And jobless claims unexpectedly jumped in the previous week to a seasonally adjusted 439,000, due to Hurricane Sandy, according to the Labor Department.

Meanwhile, the consumer price index edged up in October, according to the Labor Department. The data still pointed to only modest inflation pressures that appear unlikely to derail the Fed's plan to keep rates low for an extended period.

"Any kind of meaningful positive news out of Washington may give us a relief rally," wrote Elliot Spar, market strategist at Stifel Nicolaus. "However, there are numerous levels of upside resistance which were previously support so it will be a tough climb."

Stocks tumbled more than 1 percent in the previous session, with the Dow closing at its worst level in nearly five months, following President Barack Obama's press conference on the "fiscal cliff," worries over the global economy and amid geopolitical tension in the Middle East.

"The predominant factor is still the fiscal cliff—that's what bothered the market yesterday during the press conference when President Obama seemed not ready to compromise, but rather obdurate about what he wanted to do with the tax increase," said Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS Financial Services. (Read More: Bartiromo—'Fiscal Cliff' Deal? Don't Count on It)

European shares finished in the red again after reports showed the euro zone slipped into its second recession since 2009 in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Brent crude jumped near $111 a barrel as ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip prompted fears over an oil supply disruption in the Middle East.

Apple continued to decline, hitting a six-month low. The tech giant's stock is down about 25 percent from its all time high of $705 a share.

Among earnings, Wal-Mart reported earnings that exceeded estimates, but revenue fell short of forecasts. Meanwhile, S&P Capital IQ lowered its target price on the big-box retailer to $80 from $83.

Rival Target rose after the retailer posted quarterly results that edged past expectations.

Dell and Gap are expected to post earnings after the closing bell.

McDonald's announced that Jan Fields, president of its U.S. business, will leave the fast-food chain. The departure comes a week after the company reported its first monthly sales drop in nearly a decade.

United Continental edged lower after United Airlines briefly suffered its third major computer outage since June. The airline company said it has resolved the issue.

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

On Tap This Week:

THURSDAY: Fed bank of Chicago annual conf.; Earnings from Gap, Dell , Autodesk, Marvell Tech
FRIDAY: Treasury international capital, industrial production, e-commerce retail sales; Earnings from Foot Locker, JM Smucker, Ann

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