Utilities and real estate stocks eked out slight gains as investors moved toward safer holdings.
A lack of concrete news on trade and lingering economic concerns has been weighing on stocks all week. Investor optimism about progress in trade talks between the U.S. and China appears to be waning. Media reports have signaled that a deal could be struck this month, but there is less confidence in any of the major issues being resolved.
Despite the trade war, China still faces a slowdown in economic growth that analysts fear could impact the global economy. Meanwhile, the U.S. trade deficit ballooned, in large part because of costly tariffs brought on by its damaging trade war with China.
China’s government has also taken up a series of stimulus measures The Federal Reserve in the U.S. has pulled back from raising interest rates, acknowledging potential threats to economic growth.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 256 points, or 1 percent, to 25,419 as of 10:30 a.m. The S&P 500 index fell 0.9 percent and the Nasdaq composite fell 0.8 percent.
CLEANUP IN AISLE THREE: Kroger plunged 12 percent after the grocery store operator reported weak earnings and a drop in fourth-quarter revenue that fell short of Wall Street forecasts.
THIN READ: Bookseller Barnes & Noble shed 14 percent after it slashed its earnings forecast for its full fiscal year.
TAXING QUARTER: H&R Block rose 5 percent after the tax software and preparation company told investors it remains on track to hit its financial forecast for the fiscal year.
The company reported a delay in tax returns filed during its fiscal third quarter that hurt revenue. But, the company’s fourth-quarter, the height of tax season, is typically its strongest quarter.
OVERSEAS: European markets narrowed their losses after the European Central Bank became the latest central bank to acknowledge weaker economic growth and take action to lessen the damage.
The ECB took unexpectedly quick action Thursday, pushing back the earliest date of interest rate increases and announcing a new round of cheap loans to banks. It said it will not raise rates before the end of this year at the earliest. Previously, it had said that earliest rate hike would come in the fall.
European government bond prices rose, sending yields lower.