The stock market fell to its lowest level in a month Thursday as investors worried that the end may be nearing for the Federal Reserve's support for the economy.
The Fed's stimulus efforts have been a key factor in the bull market that has pushed the Standard & Poor's 500 index almost 25 higher percent this year. Investors know it will end sooner or later. But the timing, and the fallout, are uncertain.
Until this month, stocks had risen for eight weeks straight. The S&P 500 set a record high as recently as Monday. But stocks posted their biggest declines since Nov. 7 on Wednesday, and dropped further on Thursday. Now they're on the verge of their second weekly loss in a row.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 104.10 points, or 0.7 percent, at 15,739.43. The S&P 500 fell 6.72 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,775.50. The Nasdaq composite dropped 5.41 points, or 0.1 percent, to 3,998.40.
The Dow is still up 20 percent this year, and the Nasdaq has risen 32 percent.
"We don't think we're in a bubble, however we do know we're in an expensive market," said Marty Leclerc, chief investment officer and portfolio manager at Barrack Yard Advisors.
Leclerc said stocks have risen faster than earnings over the past couple of years, so it "wouldn't be unusual to have a step backwards even in the confines of a bull market run."
In economic news, the number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose to about where it was before the Great Recession.
Also, U.S. shoppers spent more money on appliances, furniture and cars in November. Spending had been muted for months heading into the crucial holiday shopping period, a worrisome sign for investors. Retail sales rose 0.7 percent last month, the biggest gain in five months. October sales were also revised higher.
That's the kind of economic data that has been interpreted to mean that the U.S. economy is strong enough for the Fed reduce, or "taper," as it's called on Wall Street, its stimulus program.