Speculation on whether the Fed will change its $85 billion per month asset purchasing program -- called quantitative easing -- has been testing stock prices since Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke raised the possibility in June the Fed could slow down or end the program.
A chorus of Fed officials quickly denied the Fed would tamp down the purchases, which are credited with keeping borrowing rates low. However, speculation that a change is imminent has not been quelled.
Fed policy makers are scheduled to meet Tuesday and Wednesday with a policy announcement due when the meeting ends.
Speculation the Fed would pull back on purchases was fueled by a Labor Department report that pegged first-time unemployment claims as dropping by 31,000 in the week.
MarketWatch said a computer delay was partly responsible for the dramatic drop. Two states that changed their computing systems in the week failed to meet the deadline for inclusion in the report, the government said.
On Wall Street Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average ended a three-day rally, shedding 25.96 points or 0.17 percent to close at 15,300.64. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 5.71 points or 0.34 percent to 1,683.42. The Nasdaq composite index lost 9.04 or 0.24 percent to 3,715.97.
On the New York Stock Exchange, 998 stocks advanced and 2,070 declined on a volume of 3 billion shares traded.
Ten-year U.S. treasuries were yielding 2.9153 percent.
The euro rose to $1.33 Thursday, while the dollar fell to 99.48 yen.
In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index gave up 0.26 percent or 37.80 points to 14,387.27.
In Britain, the FTSE 100 index added 0.01 percent or 0.55 points to close at 6,588.98.
Gold dropped 5.83 percent or $43.90 on the Comex division of the NYMEX, dropping to $1,320.90 per troy ounce. Selling was the order of the day on speculation that the Fed would throttle back on its monthly purchases.
Silver shed $1.342 cents to $21.83 per ounce, down 5.79 percent.
In late trading, West Texas Intermediate crude oil added $1.19 to $108.75 per barrel.
On the Chicago Board of trade, corn for December delivery lost 6 1/2 cents to $4.66 per bushel. Soybeans for November added 39 1/4 cents to $13.97 1/2. Wheat for December delivery added 5 1/2 cents to $6.53 1/2.
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