During early U.S. trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 0.32%, the S&P 500 index dropped 0.38%, while the Nasdaq Composite index fell 0.19%.
Investors remained cautious as U.S. President Barack Obama was to meet congressional leaders later Friday at the White House for last-minute talks on a "fiscal cliff" deal to avoid automatic tax increases and broad spending cuts that threaten the US economy's recovery.
The meeting comes just four days before the government goes over the so-called fiscal cliff, assuming no deal is reached. Without a deal, the U.S. could fall back into recession and drag much of the world down with it.
Apple saw shares drop 0.73% after a Chinese court fined the tech giant USD160,400 for hosting third-party applications on its App Store that were selling pirated electronic books, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Separately, Hewlett-Packard tumbled 1.42% after confirming that the Justice Department is looking into its allegations that Autonomy engaged in accounting fraud prior to its acquisition by HP last year.
In the retail sector, Home Depot slid 0.97% and Lowe’s plunged 1.17% amid reports both groups have the most at stake among retailers facing a dockworkers’ strike, with possible port closings cutting off shipments right before the lucrative gardening season.
Financial stocks added to losses, as shares in Goldman Sachs fell 0.22% and Citigroup dropped 0.56%, while JP Morgan and Bank of America declined 0.55% and 0.61% respectively.
Elsewhere, on Delta Airlines slipped 0.35% and Southwest Airlines dropped 0.68%, while U.S. Airways tumbled 0.99%, Spirit Airlines declined 0.45% and Alaska Air retreated 0.49%, even as Raymond James raised its price target on all five airline companies.
Across the Atlantic, European stock markets were higher. The EURO STOXX 50 dove 1.41%, France’s CAC 40 tumbled 1.05%, Germany's DAX dropped 0.51%, while Britain's FTSE 100 slid 0.56%.
During the Asian trading session, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index added 0.21%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index climbed 0.70%.
Later in the day, the U.S. was to publish data on pending home sales, as well as a report on business conditions in the Chicago area and official data on crude oil stockpiles and natural gas inventories.