Macy's shares closed down 10.2 percent and Kohl's fell nearly 6 percent as the companies continued to report a drop in quarterly same-store sales, stoking concerns that their turnarounds may still be a long way off.
"We need to tone down the rhetoric of regime change and all this".
"It's wonderful when you consider the headlines just how calm the equity markets are, how they've taken things in their stride", said Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist at LPL Financial in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"Obviously we are looking at the increased tensions between the U.S. and North Korea", said Brad Bechtel, managing director FX at Jefferies in NY.
The yen held steady against the dollar, taking a breather after having risen on Wednesday to its highest level in almost eight weeks.
The Swiss franc eased about 0.2 percent to 0.9658 per dollar, having surged roughly 1.1 percent on Wednesday. That "looks high enough to be consistent with a 5 percent-plus pace for real GDP growth", said Jim O'Sullivan of High Frequency Economics in a report.
In Asia, South Korea's benchmark Kospi index fell 1.1%, and the Nikkei in Tokyo sank 1.3%.
Investors instead turned to safe-haven assets such as gold, pushing it to a two-month high, and the Japanese yen rose.
The higher oil prices were of little boost to the Canadian dollar, which continued to move away from its July two-year highs.
Weekend Box Office: It Did Not Go Well For 'The Dark Tower'
The result was that 83% of The Dark Tower film audience indicated that they were definitely/probably interested in a TV series. The movie got the highest revenue from Russian Federation of $4.1 million out of $8 million from the 19 different markets.
The heavyweight financials sector, which accounts for more than a third of the index's weight, was down 0.25 percent as USA and Canadian bond yields fell.
The dollar weakened against the yen, which is often sought in times of geopolitical tension.
Sterling was last trading at $1.2986, down 0.35 percent on the day.
USA gold futures for December delivery rose 0.2 percent to $1,281.20 per ounce.
"North Korea was fodder for the overnight trade, and as we headed into today we haven't seen any more saber-rattling", said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade.
Oil prices rose after a report showed United States refineries processed record amounts of crude in the latest week, eating into inventories.
Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 2.25 percent from 2.26 percent late Tuesday.
Charter Communications rose 2.9 per cent on news Altice is exploring a bid for the cable giant.
Elsewhere in commodities, the September crude contract advanced 20 cents to US$49.76 per barrel and the September natural gas contract was up seven cents to US$2.95 per mmBTU.