U.S. stocks waned today even as the government reported a sharper-than-anticipated improvement in initial jobless claims last week.

The S&P Retail Index was down 0.3 percent, or 1.68 points, to 604.7 as trading settled. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.3 percent, or 31.26 points, to 12,573.27.

One notable company bucking the trend was Procter & Gamble Co., which saw its shares jump 3.8 percent to $63.70 after the Federal Trade Commission gave activist investor William Ackman the go-ahead to build a stake in the consumer products giant. Ackman is a big shareholder in J.C. Penney Co. Inc., where he helped install Ron Johnson as chief executive officer to reinvent the ailing retailer.

Slipping for the day were The Bon-Ton Stores Inc., down 7 percent to$7.90; Sears Holdings Corp., 5.2 percent to $53.44; Movado Group Inc., 4.4 percent to $23.59; Michael Kors Holdings Ltd., 4.1 percent to $39.03, and Tumi Holdings Inc. 3.1 percent to $16.27.

The Labor Department said initial claims for unemployment insurance fell by 26,000 to 350,000 last week — economists expected a much more modest dip of 1,000 in first-time claims.

European markets were also down. Milan’s FTSE MIB fell 2 percent to 13,583.82, as London’s FTSE 100 declined 1 percent to 5,608.25, Paris’ CAC 40 decreased 0.7 percent to 3,135.18 and Frankfurt’s DAX dipped 0.5 percent to 6,419.35.

The decliners included Tod’s, down 4.4percent to 69 euros; Salvatore Ferragamo, 4.1 percent to 14.37 euros; Luxottica Group, 3.3 percent to 26.60 euros; PPR, 2.2 percent to 107.05 euros, and Marks and Spencer Group, 1.9 percent to 3.12 pounds.

The euro traded for $1.23 against the dollar while the pound went for $1.55.