NEW YORK (AP) - Stock indexes fell Thursday, pushing the Dow to its lowest since July, after U.S. retailers turned in mixed earnings reports.
Wal-Mart's stock dropped $2.78 to $68.50 after the company issued a weak forecast for fourth-quarter profits. Ross Stores, whose stores includes Ross Dress for Less, fell $1.41 to $53.71 after its earnings forecast for the next quarter disappointed analysts. Limited Brands, the owner of Victoria's Secret, dropped $1.19 to $45.40 after its earnings outlook also fell short of analysts' expectations.
The Dow Jones industrial average wavered between small gains and losses shortly after the opening bell, then moved decisively lower at midmorning. As of 12:03 p.m. it was down 50 points at 12,521.22. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down five points at 1,351 and the Nasdaq composite was down 15 at 2,832.95
Stocks have fallen steadily since the Presidential election last week, when voters returned President Barack Obama and a divided Congress to power. Concern that political wrangling will stop lawmakers from reaching a deal on reducing the budget deficit has prompted the selling. The Dow lost 5 percent from Election Day, Nov. 6, through Wednesday's close.
A series of sharp tax increases and government spending cuts will go into effect Jan. 1 unless Obama and Congress reach a deal first. The impact would total $700 billion for 2013 and could send the country back into recession.
Superstorm Sandy drove the number of people seeking unemployment benefits up to 439,000 last week, the Labor Department reported. Applications for benefits rose 78,000, mostly because a large number were filed in states damaged by the storm.
The S&P 500 has declined 7.8 percent from its peak this year. The gauge reached 1,465 Sept. 14 after the Federal Reserve said it would extend its so-called quantitative easing program and buy mortgage-backed debt with the aim of lowering long-term borrowing rates to encourage spending and bolster job growth.