U.S. stocks continued a two-day slide Thursday on weak economic data and concern about the Federal Reserve's resolve to keep juicing the economy.
Signaling that the U.S. labor market remains in slow recovery mode, the government said more people applied for unemployment benefits last week.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to the highest in six weeks.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 46.92 points at 13,880.62.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.63 percent to 1,502.42. The Nasdaq composite index fell 1.04 percent to 3,131.49.
In Europe, markets closed sharply lower after a monthly survey of European executives showed that business activity in the European Union slowed in February, a strong signal that a downturn that began last year will continue into 2013. Benchmark indexes lost 2.3 percent in France, 1.9 percent in Germany, and 1.6 percent in Britain.
U.S. indexes have soared this year to the highest levels since the financial crisis but may be ready to fall back to earth, said Kim Caughey Forrest, senior analyst with Fort Pitt Capital Group, a portfolio management firm in Pittsburgh. "I think the market has gotten ahead of itself," she said.