Wal-Mart Stores(WMT) reported disappointing second-quarter U.S. sales early Thursday. Kohl's(KSS) said its second-quarter profit fell and lowered its earnings forecast for the full year.
On the economic front, the U.S. government said jobless claims dropped by more than expected to 320,000, a decrease of 15,000 from the previous week's revised figure. The Labor Department said the consumer price index rose 0.2%, in line with expectations. CPI is a key gauge of inflation.
Investors continue to look for more clues on when the Federal Reserve will start to tighten monetary policy.
Chris Beauchamp, analyst with IG in London, said investors are still nervous about whether or not the Fed will begin to pull back on, or taper, its bond-buying program next month.
European markets were weaker in morning trading, taking their cue from U.S. markets and a softer tone in Asia, where markets ended lower on the day. The Shanghai Composite lost almost 1%, while the Nikkei declined 2.1% as the yen strengthened. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was flat as traders returned from a one-day typhoon break.