NEW YORK — Unable to shake their worries about Europe, investors drove stocks to a four-month low Thursday and piled into bonds, sending the yield on the 10-year Treasury note close to an all-time low.
The Dow Jones industrial average posted its 11th loss in 12 days after a pair of discouraging economic reports further unnerved traders already concerned about a possible exit from the euro by Greece.
The Dow lost 156.06 points, most of it toward the end of the trading day, to close at 12,442.49. It is down almost 6 percent for May, and what had been a strong year for stocks has been reduced to a slender 1.8 percent gain.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index closed at its lowest point since Jan. 17.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year note hit 1.69 percent. That is lower than any 3 p.m. reading since at least 1953, according to records kept by the Federal Reserve.
According to other financial data providers, including Dow Jones and Bloomberg, the yield on the 10-year dipped slightly lower, to 1.67 percent, at other points in the trading day last September.
“It’s still seen as one of the safest investments in the world,” said Guy LeBas, chief fixed income strategist for Janney Montgomery Scott. “If you compare Europe’s problems to our problems in the U.S., it doesn’t look so bad over here.”
The dollar and gold both rose as traders sought refuge in lower-risk assets.
Stock indexes opened lower on Wall Street following drops in European markets. The declines accelerated at mid-morning after the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said manufacturing slowed in the mid-Atlantic region for the first time in eight months. The report was far worse than analysts had been expecting.
In other trading, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 19.94 points to 1,304.86, its lowest close since Jan. 17. The Nasdaq composite fell 60.35 points to 2,813.69.
In Europe, Fitch ratings agency downgraded Greece deeper into junk territory on Thursday and warned that a Greek exit from the euro currency is “probable” if new national elections next month produce an anti-bailout government.
“Europe is very much on investors’ minds,” said Brian Gendreau, market strategist at broker-dealer Cetera Financial Group. “It’s been two years with multiple bailouts involving Ireland, Portugal and Greece, and things don’t seem to be getting better.”
German, French and Spanish stock markets all fell more than 1 percent.
Spain was forced to pay sharply higher interest rates to raise $3.18 billion in a debt auction Thursday.
In other news:
CATERPILLAR: It fell 4 percent, the most of the 30 stocks in the Dow, after reporting that global sales growth of construction and mining machinery slowed between February and April.
WAL-MART: It rose over 4 percent, the most in the Dow, after reporting a 10 percent jump in first-quarter income, beating Wall Street expectations.
MEDIA GENERAL: It soared 33 percent after billionaire Warren Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway agreed to buy 63 newspapers from the company for $142 million.
GAMESTOP: It fell 11 percent after the world’s largest video game retailer reported its first-quarter profit fell 9.8 percent, as fewer customers visited its stores and bought new games and systems.
SEARS HOLDINGS: It rose 3 percent after the beleaguered retailer turned a profit in the first quarter, benefiting from a gain on the sale of some stores.
HUMAN GENOME: The biotech drugmaker has adopted a “poison pill” shareholder rights plan to ward off unsolicited takeover bids, while it rejects a buyout offer worth nearly $2.6 billion from British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.
AGILENT TECHNOLOGIES: It is buying Dako, a Denmark-based cancer diagnostic company, for about $2.2 billion to help it develop a wider range of cancer-fighting products, expand Agilent’s life sciences division and boost revenue.
HEWLETT-PACKARD: Published reports say Hewlett-Packard is poised to eliminate up to 30,000 jobs to help offset dwindling demand for personal computers as more people connect to the Internet on smartphones and tablets.