NEW YORK U.S. stocks opened lower Thursday after a disappointing report about the number of people seeking jobless benefits.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 50 points to 13,121. The Standard & Poor s 500, which earlier this week hit its highest point in four years during a trading day, was down five to 1,409. The Nasdaq composite index fell 12 to 3,062.

The Labor Department said the four-week average for people seeking unemployment assistance rose slightly last week, a reminder that any recovery in the jobs market remains modest and uneven.

Major indexes in Germany, France, Greece and Spain were also down. Greece is trying to implement the reforms that Germany is demanding so it can keep its rescue loans, but the process has been slow.

China reported lower manufacturing activity, and the Bank of China said that profit growth fell sharply this year.

In early U.S. trading, materials stocks and utilites fell the most, while health care stocks were down only slightly.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve released minutes from a meeting that suggested the central bank will step in with additional help for the economy unless the recovery picks up dramatically.
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