The Department of Labor said initial claims for unemployment benefits dropped by 2,000 in the week ending Saturday to 387,000.
Indicating recent fluctuations have been small, the four-week rolling average for first-time claims rose by 3,500 to 386,250.
Investors are failing to respond to the U.S. Federal Reserve's decision to extend its "operation twist," program to the end of the year. The maneuver, using proceeds from maturing short-term securities to buy long-term securities, gave stocks only a slight boost Wednesday. By Thursday morning any move toward higher ground had faded.
The National Association of Realtors reported sales of existing homes dipped 1.5 percent in May compared with April.
By close of trading on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 250.82 points, or 1.96 percent, to 12,573.57. The Nasdaq composite index gave up 71.36 points, 2.44 percent, to 2,859.09.
The Standard and Poor's 500 lost 30.18, or 2.23 percent, to 1,325.51.
On the New York Stock Exchange, 575 stocks advanced and 2,495 declined on a volume of 3.7 billion shares traded.
The benchmark 10-year treasury note rose 14/32 to yield 1.617 percent.
The euro fell to $1.2546 from Wednesday's $1.2706. Against the yen, the dollar rose to 80.24 yen from Wednesday's 79.55 yen.
In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 index added 0.82 percent, 71.76 points, to 8,824.07.
In London, the FTSE 100 index shed 0.99 percent, 55.93, to 5,566.36.