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NEW YORK — A batch of worrying economic figures tugged stock markets down today. Measures of manufacturing and business activity in both China and Europe slumped.
In the U.S., the railroad Norfolk Southern warned that it is shipping fewer goods, and the government gave investors another reminder that the job market remains weak.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 12 points to 13,566 shortly after noon today. The Dow and other stock-market indexes reached four-year highs last week after the Federal Reserve unveiled a new plan to support the economy. Clark Yingst, chief market analyst at the securities firm Joseph Gunnar, said it's hard to find any reason for the stock market to continue climbing. “You do have to wonder what the next catalyst is going to be.”
The Labor Department reported that 382,000 people applied for unemployment benefits last week, more than economists had expected. When applications consistently top 375,000, it suggests hiring is too weak to lower the unemployment rate.
More evidence of sluggishness came from Norfolk Southern. The railroad said falling coal prices and a drop in shipments will likely drag down quarterly earnings. That followed a warning from FedEx earlier this week that global trade has slumped to recession levels.
Norfolk Southern's stock sank $6.45 to $66.27. In other trading, the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell four points to 1,457, and the Nasdaq composite index dropped 12 points to 3,171.
Weak economic figures weighed on markets in Europe and Asia. A gauge of European Union business activity slipped to its lowest level in more than three years.
CarMax sank 6 percent after the chain of used-car dealers reported essentially flat quarterly net income, below analysts’ expectations. Costs surged as CarMax opened more dealerships. Its stock lost $1.90 to $30.07.
ConAgra Foods Inc. jumped 7 percent. The maker of Healthy Choice packaged meals and Slim Jim beef jerky said its profit more than doubled, helped by lower food costs and a strong gain from a hedge on commodity prices. ConAgra's stock rose $1.50 to $27.15.
The real-estate website Trulia soared 44 percent in its first day of trading. Trulia priced its initial public offering at $17 on Wednesday, raising $102 million. Trulia's stock was already up to $24.41 shortly after noon.
The three major indexes remain up more than 3 percent in September, historically the worst month for stocks. Since 1950, the S&P 500 has averaged a drop of 0.5 percent for the month. The Dow has lost an average of 0.8 percent.