US stocks zig-zagged around the break-even line in volatile trade Thursday before ending slightly lower, pulled down in part by Walmart's disappointing earnings.
The giant global retailer sank 3.7 percent after its quarterly revenues fell below expectations and it said it was investigating possible corruption in Walmart operations in India, China and Brazil.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 28.57 points (0.23 percent) at 12,542.38.
The broad-market S&P 500 lost 2.16 (0.16 percent) at 1,353.33, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite slipped 9.87 (0.35 percent) to 2,836.94.
There was little good news to push stocks higher: the eurozone economy registered a second straight quarter of negative growth; US Republicans and Democrats appeared ready for a clash over how to avoid the fiscal cliff; and tensions were higher in the Middle East as Israel launched a new air assault on Gaza.
Walmart's third-quarter earnings set the tone. Its quarterly net income rose nine percent to $3.63 billion, but revenue at stores opened at least a year climbed only 1.5 percent, below expectations.
The company also admitted that in addition to the US investigation into allegations the company bribed Mexican officials, violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, that internal probes were under way on possible FCPA violations in Brazil, China and India.
Cisco (+1.6 percent) and Bank of America (+1.1 percent) led gainers on the Dow, while Walmart and Verizon (-1.3 percent) topped the losers.
On the Nasdaq, Apple lost another 2.1 percent to hit $525.62, far below its September peak of $705.07.
Facebook edged 0.9 percent lower after surging nearly 13 percent Wednesday amid a rush of short-covering linked to expectations the shares would sink when restrictions on share selling by insiders were lifted this week.
United Airlines shares were off 2.4 percent amid reports of widespread flight cancellations due to a computer glitch.
Bond prices were mixed.
The 10-year US Treasury yield held at 1.59 percent, and the 30-year slipped to 2.72 percent from 2.73 percent late Wednesday.
Bond prices and yields move inversely.