The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 150 points on Thursday, the 30-stock average's fourth day of losses.
The Dow Jones Industrial average lost 151.69 points to close at 34,879.38, dragged down by Amgen and Merck. The S&P 500 fell 0.46% to 4,493.28, dropping for the fourth straight day. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.25% to 15,248.25. All three major averages are headed for losses this week.
Investors remained cautious as they try to discern what's next to happen with the delta variant, the economic reopening and the Federal Reserve.
Several airlines on Thursday lowered their forecasts because of the resurgence in Covid. United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines each gave cautious comments.
The Fed meets on Sep. 21-22 and investors are worried the central bank will indicate a move to slow down its monthly $120 billion in bond purchases, which have kept rates low and boosted the recovery from the pandemic.
"This may not end now. But when it ends, it could end badly," wrote Savita Subramanian, head of equity and quantitative strategy at Bank of America, in a note Wednesday. "If taper means no uspide to the S&P 500, tightening could be worse."
Subramanian has a 4,600 year-end S&P 500 target, about 2% from here.
Helping sentiment was a better-than-expected weekly reading on jobless claims. Initial jobless claims came in 310,000, which was below expectations of 335,000 claims. This marked another fresh low for the pandemic era.
Meme-favorite GameStop closed in the green after dropping as much as 10.5%. The video-game retailer posted a narrower loss compared with the year prior but did not provide an outlook or grander turnaround plans.
Shares of athletic retailer Lululemon surged 10.5% and furniture retailer RH rose 7.8% on the back of better-than-expected earnings. Lululemon also offered a stronger-than-forecast outlook for the third quarter and the year.
The European Central Bank said it would slow down the pace of its own bond purchases on Thursday.
"Based on a joint assessment of financing conditions and the inflation outlook, the Governing Council judges that favourable financing conditions can be maintained with a moderately lower pace of net asset purchases under the (PEPP) than in the previous two quarters," the ECB said in a statement.
The Dow is down more than 1% for September, a month that historically can be a treacherous one for stocks. The market still hasn't regained its footing since the August jobs report released Friday came in much worse than expected.
Despite recent losses, the major benchmarks are still up big for the year and within striking distances of their all-time highs. The S&P 500, up roughly 20% in 2021, is about 1.2% from its all-time high. The Dow, up 14% this year, is about 2% from a record.