"There's this counter-intuitive reaction to economic news," Trunow said. "Positive data comes out and markets aren't excited about it. They say, 'Uh-oh, the stimulus will be removed.' "
Thursday's corporate news was mostly negative. Wal-Mart fell $1.99, or 3 percent, to $74.41 after the world's largest retailer cut its profit and revenue forecasts for 2013. It also reported second-quarter results that missed Wall Street's estimates.
Cisco Systems announced plans to cut 5 percent of its workforce, roughly 4,000 employees, as sales slow. CEO John Chambers called the global economy "challenging and inconsistent." Cisco plunged $1.89, or 7 percent, to $24.48, the biggest drop of the 30 big companies in the Dow.
Cisco's announcement led to selling in other technology stocks because the company is widely regarded as a bellwether for the industry. Cisco sells a wide range of products to corporations and governments and its fiscal quarters end a month later than most major technology companies. As a result, Cisco's performance gives investors a glimpse into current conditions.
In the market for U.S. government bonds, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note jumped as high as 2.81 percent, the highest level since July 2011.
By the end of the day, the yield had drifted back to 2.77 percent, compared with 2.71 percent on Wednesday.
Higher long-term interest rates could cool housing sales because the 10-year U.S. government note acts as a benchmark for interest rates on mortgage loans.
"A sharp increase in long-term rates translates into a sharp increase in mortgage rates," Trunow said. "That's bound to impact the housing market."
AP Markets Reporter Steve Rothwell contributed reporting.