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US markets end lower amid global growth worries

Extending their losses for four straight sessions, the US markets ended lower on Thursday, after the European Central Bank (ECB) slashed its economic growth forecast, citing lingering, mainly external uncertainties. The ECB also said it now expects eurozone interest rates to remain at the current level at least till the end of this year. The eurozone growth outlook for this year was cut to 1.1% from 1.7%, while the outlook for next year was trimmed to 1.6% from 1.7%. The ECB said that the risks surrounding the euro area growth outlook are still tilted to the downside, on account of the persistence of uncertainties related to geopolitical factors, the threat of protectionism and vulnerabilities in emerging markets. Besides, ECB President Mario Draghi said while there are signs that some of the idiosyncratic domestic factors dampening growth are starting to fade, the weakening in economic data points to a sizeable moderation in the pace of the economic expansion that will extend into the current year.

On the economic front, a day ahead of the release of the more closely watched monthly jobs report, the Labor Department released a report showing a modest decrease in first-time claims for US unemployment benefits in the week ended March 2. The report said initial jobless claims edged down to 223,000, a decrease of 3,000 from the previous week's revised level of 226,000. Street had expected jobless claims to come in unchanged compared to the 225,000 originally reported for the previous week. The Labor Department said the less volatile four-week moving average dipped to 226,250, a decrease of 3,000 from the previous week's revised average of 229,250. Meanwhile, a report released by the Federal Reserve showed consumer credit in the US increased by more than expected in the month of January. The report said consumer credit climbed by $17.0 billion in January after rising by a revised $15.4 billion in December. Street had expected consumer credit to increase by $16.0 billion. The Fed said non-revolving credit such as student loans and car loans rose by $14.5 billion in January after climbing by $14.4 billion in December.

Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 200.23 points or 0.78 percent to 25473.23, S&P 500 declined 22.52 points or 0.81 percent to 2748.93 and Nasdaq was down by 84.46 points or 1.13 percent to 7421.46.

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