- U.S. stocks opened sharply lower on Thursday, despite upbeat U.S. jobless claims data as concerns over Portugal''s banking sector weighed globally and after the Federal Reserve’s latest meeting gave little indication of when interest rates could start to rise.

During early U.S. trade, the Dow 30 dropped 0.91%, the S&P 500 retreated 0.84%, while the NASDAQ Composite tumbled 1.07%.

The U.S. Department of Labor said the number of individuals filing for initial jobless benefits in the week ending July 5 declined by 11,000 to a 304,000 from the previous week’s total of 315,000. Analysts had expected jobless claims to hold steady at 315,000 last week.

The data came a day after the minutes of the Fed''s June meeting revealed little new information on when the bank could start to hike rates. The central bank acknowledged that the economy is continuing to improve but officials remain divided over the outlook for inflation.

The minutes did show however that officials agreed to end the bank’s asset purchase program in October.

Meanwhile, European equities came under broad selling pressure amid growing concerns over the health of Porugal''s Espirito Santo Financial Group.

In the tech sectorm International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM) dropped 0.82% after saying it plans to spend $3 billion on semiconductor research and development in the next five years, even as the company is said to be selling its chip-manufacturing arm.

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) saw shares plummet 1.37% after the iPhone maker said it is now trying a more modest approach against Korean rival Samsung Electronics (KS:005930) over smartphone patent infringement issues.

The tech giant was set to present its arguments on Thursday to a U.S. district judge in California for a "narrowly tailored" sales ban on some older Samsung models after a jury in May found infringement by both companies.

Elsewhere, Vornado Realty Trust (NYSE:VNO) declined 0.47% amid reports the real estate investment trust is leading a partnership to buy the retail portion of the St. Regis Hotel on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue for about $700 million.

Other stocks likely to be in focus included Family Dollar Stores (NYSE:FDO), Progressive (NYSE:PGR), Barracuda Networks (NYSE:CUDA) and PriceSmart (NASDAQ:PSMT), scheduled to report second-quarter earnings later in the day.

Across the Atlantic, European stock markets were sharply lower. The DJ Euro Stoxx 50 plummeted 1.87%, France’s CAC 40 lost 1.51%, Germany''s DAX tumbled 1.51%, while Britain''s FTSE 100 dropped 0.85%.

During the Asian trading session, Hong Kong''s Hang Seng rose 0.27%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 dropped 0.56%.

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