By Hibah Yousuf
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Stocks got off to a weak start for the year, as investors took a step back amid growing worries about slowing economic growth in China.
The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq were between 0.3% and 0.4% lower early Thursday. If stocks finish the day in the red, it would be the first time the markets started the year on a down note since 2008.
Investors were in a cautious mood after data showed that China's factories lost some momentum in December, adding to fears that the world's second-largest economy may soften in the new year.
Economic data in the United States wasn't all that positive either. Initial jobless claims fell for a second straight week but came in slightly higher than expectations. Later in the morning, the Institute for Supply Management will release its monthly manufacturing index, while the Census Bureau will release data on construction spending.
Trading volume will likely remain light as many traders are still away for the holidays.
On the corporate front, shares of Fiat jumped 15% in Milan after the Italian automaker announced Wednesday it was buying full control of Chrysler.
U.S. stocks finished higher Tuesday -- the final trading day of 2013 -- with the Dow and S&P closing out 2013 with record highs. The Dow ended the year with a 26% gain, while the S&P 500 jumped more than 29% and the Nasdaq surged nearly 40%.
Markets were closed around the world Wednesday for the New Year's holiday.
European markets were all moving lower in afternoon trading, with France's CAC 40 index declining by 1%.
Most Asian markets ended the day with small gains. The Shanghai Composite index moved up nearly 1%. The Tokyo Stock Exchange was closed for an extended New Year break.
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