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In other trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 81.45 points to 14,537.14, down 0.6 percent. The Nasdaq composite lost 38.31 points to 3,166.36, down 1.2 percent.

In the market for U.S. government bonds, Treasury prices rose and their yields fell as traders moved money into low-risk assets. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped back to 1.68 percent, matching its lowest level of the year. The yield was 1.70 percent late Wednesday.

Commodities prices held steady following sharp falls earlier this week. Crude oil rose $1.05 to $87.73 a barrel and gold edged up $9.80 to $1,392.50 an ounce.

Crude had lost $10 a barrel over the past two weeks as the outlook for the global economy weakens and oil supplies remain high. On Monday, Gold fell 9 percent, its biggest plunge in 30 years, as inflation in the U.S. remained weak.

“Earnings are always important,” said Randy Frederick, managing director of active trading and derivatives at the brokerage Charles Schwab. “But this week they’ve taken a back seat to all the other headlines, like slower growth in China, the sharp sell-off in gold and then the bombing in Boston.”

For the week, the Dow is down 2.2 percent and the S&P 500 is down 2.9 percent.