The Philadelphia branch of the Federal Reserve reported that manufacturing slumped this month, pulled down by drops in new orders and shipments. Economists had expected no change in the manufacturing index.
The Dow Jones industrial fell 36 points to 12,788 in the first hour of trading. Aluminum maker Alcoa was the weakest stock in the index, falling 16 cents to $8.76. The Dow remains up 0.2 percent for the week and 3.2 percent for the month.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 6 points to 1,349, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 18 to 2,912. All three indexes are still on track for their third straight week of gains.
The market got off to a weak start after the Labor Department reported only a small decline in weekly applications for unemployment benefits. Applications need to fall sharply to indicate layoffs are easing.
In Europe, finance ministers are meeting to figure out the best way to deal with Greece and a bailout for Spain's hobbled banks. Later in the day, Spain is expected to say how much money it needs to rescue its banks.
Among stocks making big moves:
— ConAgra Foods gained 3 percent, leading the S&P 500, after its adjusted earnings and sales topped Wall Street's expectations. ConAgra's stock climbed 76 cents to $25.36.
— Bed Bath & Beyond sank 15 percent, the biggest drop in the S&P 500. The retailer said it expects weaker earnings in the current quarter than analysts expected even though it reported better profits after the market closed Wednesday.
— Red Hat slumped 5 percent. The largest provider of the Linux open source operating system for computers reported weak figures for deferred revenue. Red Hat's stock dropped $2.60 to $53.89.