Scott Freeze, president of Street One Financial in Huntingdon Valley, had the feeling that he was experiencing the calm before the storm. He went golfing Thursday morning with clients, figuring there wouldn't be many more chances to leave the office.
"There's so little going on, it's all wait and see before Bernanke's speech," Freeze said. "I'm sure next week will be a much different scenario."
For much of August, with many traders on vacation and a dearth of major economic news, the market has lumbered more than it has galloped. On Thursday, approximately 2.4 billion shares were traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The average for the year so far is about 3.7 billion shares.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 106.77 points to 13,000.71. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 11.01 to 1,399.48. The Nasdaq composite slid 32.47 to 3,048.71.
Economic news that surfaced Thursday was uninspiring to investors.
The government reported that consumer spending rose in July after a flat June and a decline in May. Separately, retailers such as Target Corp., Gap Inc. and Macy's Inc. reported higher-than-expected August sales.
But rather than send stocks up, investors instead worried that the gains were only temporary, driven by back-to-school shopping that will soon peter out.
Gas prices and job prospects were not encouraging, either. Hurricane Isaac helped push the national average price for a gallon of gas from $3.80 to $3.83 since Wednesday, according to the AAA. The government reported that the four-week moving average for unemployment claims also ticked higher.
Among the stocks that did make notable moves on Thursday:
Pandora Media Inc. jumped more than 14 percent, rising $1.44 to $11.52. The Internet radio company reported big increases in revenue from advertising, subscriptions, and from listeners accessing the website from mobile devices.
TiVo Inc., known for its digital video recorders, fell more than 3 percent, losing 32 cents to $9.04, after reporting a larger quarterly loss and missing analysts' revenue predictions.
Vera Bradley, the maker of high-end handbags, lost almost 9 percent, slipping $2.09 to $21.53. Weak sales in May and June forced the company to cut its earnings and revenue predictions for the year.