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The close: Stocks retreat in two-day slump Add to ...

Stocks took another tumble on Thursday, a day after the U.S. benchmark index sustained its worst dip since mid-November amid concerns that the Federal Reserve is re-thinking its approach to economic stimulus.

The S&P 500 was closed at 1502.42, down 9.53 points or 0.6 per cent – recovering some lost ground after briefly dipping below the 1500-point threshold. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average closed at 13,880.62, down 46.92 points or 0.3 per cent. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index closed at 12,639.97, down 74.08 points or 0.6 per cent.

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The declines follow a selloff on Wednesday afternoon, following the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s last monetary policy meeting. Those minutes suggested that the central bank might not be committed to open-ended economic stimulus, raising concerns about whether the U.S. economy can grow without policy help.

On Thursday, market jitters also had some disappointing economic news behind them. U.S. initial jobless claims for the period ended last week rose to 362,000, up 20,000, disappointing expectations.

As well, the Philadelphia-area manufacturing survey showed a decrease in activity last month, versus expectations for a slight increase.

However, the news wasn’t all bad: U.S. existing home sales rose 0.4 per cent in January, beating expectations for a decrease in sales. And U.S. inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, rose 1.6 per cent year-over-year, matching expectations and demonstrating that inflation is not a threat.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. rose 1.5 per cent after its fourth-quarter earnings beat expectations and the retailer boosted its dividend by 18 per cent. Wal-Mart’s earnings have traditionally marked the unofficially end of the quarterly earnings season.

Among Canadian stocks, Bombardier Inc. fell 9.1 per cent after reporting a 93 per cent slide in its fourth quarter net earnings – and even after adjusting for some one-time items, its earnings missed analysts’ expectations.

Tim Hortons Inc. fell 3 per cent after reporting flat fourth-quarter earnings of 65 cents a share that missed analysts’ expectations for 72 cents a share. As well, full-year same-store sales growth missed the company’s target.

Among commodities, crude oil fell to $92.84 (U.S.) a barrel, down $2.38. Gold rose slightly to $1,578.60 an ounce, up 60 cents. Among Canadian commodity producers, Suncor Energy Inc. fell 1.5 per cent and Barrick Gold Corp. rose 0.5 per cent.

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