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Stocks down on retail weakness

A trader works on the floor of the

A trader works on the floor of the NYSE Tuesday. On Jan. 8, most stock markets struggled amid concerns that the Federal Reserve will reduce its monetary stimulus more aggressively than anticipated because of the strength of the U.S. economy. (Jan. 7, 2014) Credit: Getty Images

Disappointing news from retailers helped nudge stocks lower Thursday.

At the close on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 18 points at 16,444.8. The S&P 500 was up 0.6 point at 1,838.1, and the Nasdaq composite was down 9.4 points at 4,156.2.

MACY'S CUTS. Macy's rose $4.02, or 8 percent, to $55.86 after the company said it would eliminate 2,500 jobs as part of a reorganization that the company said will save it $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 $10.20, or 13 percent, to $69.46 and Family Dollar fell $4.49, or 7 percent, to $61.90 after cutting their earnings forecasts following a disappointing holiday season. Bed Bath & Beyond and Family Dollar were the biggest decliners in the S&P 500.

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 24 cents, or 2 percent, to $15.77 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 Alan Mulally would stay on as CEO and 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 30 cents, or 3 percent, to $10.53 on word that an Alcoa subsidiary will plead guilty and pay $384 million for paying bribes to the Middle Eastern Kingdom of Bahrain.

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