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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, August 22, 2012.  (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, August 22, 2012. 

(BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

The close: S&P 500 hits three-week low Add to ...

North American stocks on Thursday stirred from remarkably calm activity throughout the week, suffering big downturns amid more signs of slowing global economic growth.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed at 13,000.71, down 106.77 points or 0.8 per cent. The broader S&P 500 closed at 1399.48, down 11.01 points or 0.8 per cent – finishing the day with its lowest close since Aug. 6. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index closed at 11,886.65, down 123.14 points or 1 per cent, marking its fourth consecutive decline.

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While not upbeat, the economic backdrop was hardly alarming. The U.S. Labor Department reported that initial jobless claims for the period ended last week were unchanged, at 374,000, providing little evidence of any meaningful improvement in the employment landscape ahead of next week’s much-anticipated report on monthly payrolls for August.

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, will deliver a speech on Friday at Jackson Hole, with many observers hoping that he will reveal central bank plans for providing another round of economic stimulus.

For sure, there were more signs that the global economy might need a jolt from central bankers. Japanese retail sales disappointed and Germany unemployment rose for a fifth straight month – suggesting that the euro zone’s woes are affecting core members.

Bank of Nova Scotia fell 2.4 per cent after agreeing to buy ING Bank of Canada from its Dutch parent ING Groep NV for about $3.1-billion, marking Scotiabank’s biggest-ever purchase. The bank will help finance the purchase by issuing 29 million shares at $52 each.

Amazon.com Inc. said that it had sold out of its popular Kindle Fire tablet, leading to speculation that the company is gearing up for the launch of another device. The shares surrendered an early lead though and ended the day down 0.4 per cent.

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