TROUBLE IN RETAIL: Bed Bath & Beyond plunged $9.90, or 12 percent, to $69.79 and Family Dollar fell $1.55, or 2 percent, to $64.79 after cutting their earnings forecasts following a disappointing holiday season. Bed Bath & Beyond fell the most in the S&P 500 index, and Family Dollar was among the top 10 decliners.
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 35 cents, or 2 percent, to $15.89 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 Ford's widely respected CEO, Alan Mulally, would 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 19 cents, or 2 percent, to $10.65 on word that an Alcoa subsidiary will plead guilty and pay $384 million for paying bribes to the Middle Eastern Kingdom of Bahrain.