Wal-Mart, Ross Stores and Limited Brands, the owner of Victoria's Secret, fell Thursday after issuing forecasts that disappointed analysts.
The Dow Jones industrial average wavered between small gains and losses shortly after the opening bell, then moved lower at midmorning. It closed with a loss of 28 points at 12,542.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell two points to 1,353 and the Nasdaq fell 10 to 2,837.
Stocks have fallen since voters returned President Barack Obama and a divided Congress to power last week. The Dow lost has lost 5 percent since Election Day.
Falling stocks outnumbered rising ones two-to-one. Volume was above average at 3.9 billion shares.