"We've had some competing forces play out over the past 12 hours - the USA dollar was stronger off economic data, but that was quickly reversed with President Trump's comments about North Korea earlier today (Wednesday)", said ANZ analyst Daniel Hynes. The stock fell $4.15 to $102.83. Defense and home improvement stocks were among the day's risers while travel & tourism and consumer electronics lagged.
Hours later, North Korea said it was considering launching missiles at Guam.
"That may have weighed a little bit" on markets, said Phil Guarco, global investment specialist J.P. Morgan Private Bank.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 1.5 percent to 2,438.21.
In the Dow, declines in shares of Merck and those of DuPont, recently down 0.9 percent and 0.8 percent respectively, outweighed gains in shares of Apple and those of Microsoft, recently up 1.3 percent and 0.7 percent respectively. Both were coming off record highs.
SeaWorld Entertainment shares lost more than 6 percent.
The Labor Department said its producer price index for final demand edged down by 0.1 percent in July after inching up by 0.1 percent in June. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, fell by 2.9 basis points to 2.212 percent. -North Korea war of words and a clutch of disappointing earnings reports.
The CBOE Volatility Index, the most widely followed barometer of expected near-term stock market volatility, was at its highest in more than a month.
Avis Budget Group slumped 9.9% after the auto rental company cut its guidance following a weak second quarter.
ValueAct sold 7 million shares of this Dow stock. Small-company stocks fell more than the rest of the market.
But while investors appeared to favor safe-haven assets, some bargain seekers helped Wall Street's three major indexes pare losses.
USA stocks felt significant early drag, with the S&P 500 down 0.5% at the open.
Technology stocks, the biggest gainers this year, led Thursday's market slide.
United States crude rose 0.69 per cent to US$49.51 per barrel and Brent was last at US$52.66, up 1 per cent on the day. Heating oil fell 1 cent to $1.63 a gallon. The strength in the sector comes as gold for December delivery is jumping $11.30 to $1,290.60 an ounce.
The Swiss franc reversed a two-week losing streak, rising rose 1.12 per cent versus the greenback at 0.96 per dollar.
The Japanese yen strengthened 0.35 per cent versus the greenback at 109.94 per dollar. Still, the French CAC 40 is trading below breakeven, down 0.2%. Britain's FTSE 100 added 0.1%.
The market slide accelerated slightly in the last half-hour of trading as Trump denounced North Korea's nuclear program.