Germany's economy shrank more than expected late last year, and the slowdown in Europe's largest economy deepened the region's ongoing recession. That's a troubling sign for the U.S., because sales to Europe have been a boon for American companies.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 9.52 points to close at 13,973.39.
After a strong start, the stock market has drifted sideways over the previous week with few major events to sway investors. That calm could disappear soon, said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at ING U.S. Investment Management.
With recessions in Europe and Japan, and weak growth in the U.S., he's bracing for some turbulence. "Everybody is too complacent," Cote said.
Cisco Systems fell 1 percent. The world's largest maker of computer networking equipment reported earnings late Wednesday that surpassed Wall Street's expectations, but the company predicted sales growth that was weaker than previous estimates. Cisco's stock lost 15 cents to $20.99.
The S&P 500 index has climbed 1.6 percent this month and has already gained 6.7 percent for the year.
The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell to 341,000 last week, the lowest level in three weeks, according to the Labor Department. Besides a few weeks last month affected by seasonal trends, that's the lowest level in nearly five years.
Among the many deals announced Thursday, American Airlines and U.S. Airways agreed to merge, creating the country's largest airline. Warren Buffett and 3G Capital, a private-equity firm, also plan to buy the ketchup maker H.J. Heinz for $23 billion. US Airways sank 67 cents to $13.99, while H.J. Heinz soared $12.02 to $72.41.
Constellation Brands soared 37 percent, the biggest gain in the S&P 500, after reaching a deal with Anheuser-Busch InBev. InBev agreed to sell a brewery in Mexico and rights for Corona and Modelo beer in the U.S. to Constellation for $2.9 billion. Constellation Brands gained $11.87 to $43.75.
In the market for U.S. government bonds, the yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped to 1.99 percent, down from 2.02 percent the day before.
The 10-year Treasury yield, used to set a variety of borrowing rates, began the year around 1.70 percent and has climbed steadily higher since then. As worries about a recession ease, traders have shifted money out of the Treasury market, driving yields up.
Among other companies making news:
— Whole Foods Market slumped 10 percent. The grocery store chain trimmed its forecasts for sales and earnings this year, a result of its plans to open more stores and put more lower-priced goods on its shelves. Whole Foods lost $9.40 to $87.50.
— General Motors fell 3 percent after the biggest U.S. carmaker said it made money in North America and Asia and nearly doubled last year's fourth-quarter profit. But its earnings fell short of analysts' estimates. GM'sstock dropped 92 cents to $27.75.