NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks slid on Wall Street Thursday, a day after the Dow Jones industrial average logged its biggest one-day drop of the year, as investors fretted about the potential for gridlock in Washington.
The Dow was down 20 points to 12,910 as of 11:30 a.m. Eastern. The Standard and Poor's 500 index fell three points to 1,392 and the Nasdaq composite slipped six to 2,931.
The Dow plunged 313 points Wednesday, its fifth worst one-day drop following a U.S. presidential election. The biggest, in 2008, came in the midst of the financial crisis on the day after President Barack Obama won his first term.
The sell-off came the day after Obama was elected for a second four-year term as investors turned their focus back to Europe's problems and the so-called fiscal cliff, a package of tax increases and government spending cuts in the U.S. that could stall the economic recovery unless Congress acts by Jan. 1.
"The thinking before the election was that it would remove some of the uncertainty, but it seems to have done the opposite," said Tyler Vernon, chief investment officer at Biltmore Capital Advisors in Princeton, N.J.
Investors were encouraged by two reports on the U.S. economy that came out before the market opened. The Dow climbed as much as 48 points but started to sink after the first hour of trading.
The Labor Department reported that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell 8,000 last week to 355,000, a possible sign that the job market is healing. Officials cautioned that the figures were distorted by Superstorm Sandy.
A separate report showed that the U.S. trade deficit narrowed to its lowest level in almost two years as exports rose to a record high.
There was also encouraging news from Europe, where leaders shocked markets a day earlier with a dire forecast for economic growth next year.
European Central Bank head Mario Draghi said financial market confidence "has visibly improved" as the 17-country group that uses the euro struggles with its debt crisis. But he said the outlook for the economy remains "weak." Draghi spoke after the bank's governing council left its key interest rate unchanged at 0.75 percent.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, on Wednesday slashed its outlook for growth for this year and 2013. The report helped set off a sharp decline in stocks in the U.S and Europe.
Among stocks making big moves:
— Energy drink maker Monster Beverage sank $2.41 to $42.56 after the company said its revenue growth slowed in the third quarter.
— Dean Foods rose 88 cents to $16.96 after the company reported a third quarter profit of $36 million for the third quarter, compared with a $1.5 billion loss in the same period a year earlier.
— Burger chain Wendy's rose 25 cents to $4.51 after the company said that a key sales figure rose. Revenue at restaurants open at least 15 months rose 2.7 percent, the sixth straight quarter of growth.