NEW YORK - Stocks closed mostly lower on Wall Street Thursday after signs emerged that Americans are spending at a slower pace and that China's economy may be in worse shape than previously thought.
American shoppers slowed their spending in June, resulting in tepid sales for many retailers. Target's stock fell 1 percent and Costco Wholesale fell less than a percent after reporting that sales rose less than analysts were expecting.
"It all boils down to one little word: uncertainty," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. "No one will spend if it feels like we're in a recession."
The reports raised concerns about Americans' ability to spend during the back-to-school shopping season. That's a crucial period for retailers.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 47.15 points at 12,896.67 on Thursday. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 6.44 points to 1,367.58. The Nasdaq composite was 0.04 point higher at 2,976.12.
Eight of the 10 major industries tracked by the S&P 500 fell, led by bank stocks. JPMorgan Chase & Co. fell $1.50, or 4 percent, to $34.38, while Bank of America fell 24 cents, or 3 percent, to $7.82.
China surprised investors earlier Thursday when it cut interest rates for the second time in a month. That caused investors to worry that the downturn in the world's second-largest economy may be worse than previously expected.
The People's Bank of China cut its main lending rate from 6.31 percent to 6 percent and reduced its deposit rates by a quarter of a percentage point to 3 percent. The bank said the lower rates are intended to boost economic growth in the second half of the year.
As the world's largest buyer of raw materials, a slowdown in China can hurt sales at a wide range of companies and weaken commodities prices. Crude oil fell 44 cents to $87.22 per barrel, and copper lost 4.7 cents to $3.493 a pound.
Central banks in Europe also moved to stem a slowdown there. The Bank of England approved a 50 billion pound injection into the ailing British economy, while the European Central Bank cut its main interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point to 0.75 percent, the lowest it's been since the bank was established in 1999.
Usually central bank action to spur economies bolsters stock prices. But investors were cautious ahead of the closely-watched U.S. government's report on hiring for June that is scheduled for release on Friday.