U.S. stocks fell on Thursday shortly after an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.4 hit Japan and a tsunami warning was issued.

The iShares MSCI Japan Index ETF dropped 0.6 percent in midday trading while Nikkei futures slid 1.1 percent. U.S.-listed shares of Toyota Motor Corp fell 0.4 percent.

The news seems to be generating a bit of jitteriness and has caused people to take a bit of profit, said Nick Kalivas, senior equity index analyst at MF Global in Chicago. In a couple hours from now, if it looks like damage is minimal, the market will go back to trading economics as opposed to earthquakes.

On March 11 the country was hit by a massive quake that created a tsunami. Officials have said after those disasters 12,554 were confirmed dead, with another 15,000 missing. The events also sparked a crisis with some nuclear plants that still hasn't been resolved.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 46.55 points, or 0.37 percent, at 12,380.20. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 2.77 points, or 0.21 percent, at 1,332.77. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was down 4.49 points, or 0.16 percent, at 2,795.33.

Stocks had been mostly flat prior to the news of the quake, with technical resistance on the S&P 500 preventing further gains after a larger-than-expected drop in weekly jobless claims and March retail sales that were better than expected.

Among retailers, Costco Wholesale Corp beat expectations and its shares gained 3.4 percent to $77.55. Macy's Inc rose 1.9 percent to $25.6 while Gap Inc fell 1.9 percent to $22.63.

(Additional reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Kenneth Barry)