Stocks Pummeled by Eurozone, Fiscal Cliff Worries
Also, the Greek parliament on early Thursday passed by a narrow margin a new, tough austerity package that triggered mass protests on the streets of Athens but was required to help bring more financial aid to the country.
Despite this, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that a decision on releasing the bailout funds will unlikely be reached next week.
"Despite the rather close passage of austerity measures by the Greek parliament, eurozone leaders have already warned that the work is far from done," said Geoffrey Yu, a currency strategist at UBS.
Investors were also keeping an eye on China's big leadership change, which could be a more significant event for emerging economies than the re-election of Obama.
"The installation of a cohesive Chinese leadership committed to putting the economy on a more sustainable footing would create opportunities for consumer goods producers while also signaling an end to the global commodity boom," said Mark Williams, an economist at Capital Economics .
Overseas markets finished lower. The FTSE 100 in London closed down 0.27%, while the DAX in Germany finished off 0.39%. Japan's Nikkei average settled down 1.51% on Thursday and Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed behind by 2.41%.
Gold for December delivery added $12 to settle at $1,726 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while December crude oil contracts rose 65 cents to close at $85.09 a barrel.
The benchmark 10-year Treasury rose 14/32, diluting the yield to 1.623%. The dollar slipped 0.01%, according to the U.S. dollar index.
In corporate news, CBS(CBS) shares rose 1.1% after the media company booked better-than-expected first-quarter earnings as a fall in advertising sales was balanced by revenue from areas including content and licensing fees.
Shares of Wendy's(WEN) tacked on 3.1% after the fast-food chain announced a wider-than-expected third-quarter net loss, but revealed that sales at restaurants opened at least 15 months increased 2.7%, pointing to a sixth straight quarter of growth.
Lawn and garden care products company Scotts Miracle-Gro (SMG) reported a slightly wider-than-expected fourth-quarter loss and less-than-expected revenue as its company-wide gross margin rate weakened from a year ago due to higher material costs and unfavorable conversion costs, and the operating loss for its global consumer segment widened from a year earlier. The stock lost 4.2%.
Shares of Dean Foods (DF) gained 2% after the company beat third-quarter earnings estimates and hiked its full-year earnings guidance to between $1.27 and $1.32 a share, driven by continued strong momentum across the business, offset by the impact of rising commodity costs, particularly at Fresh Dairy Direct.
Department store operator Kohl's(KSS) announced that it now expects full-year earnings of $4.52 to $4.60 a share for fiscal 2012 versus its previous guidance of $4.50 to $4.65 a share. The company posted better-than-expected third-quarter results as same-store sales increased 1.1%. Shares slid 5.1%.