The guessing game over higher interest rates is making for a jerky stock market.
A day after their biggest gain in six weeks, U.S. stock indexes mostly fell on Tuesday as oil continued to slide and investors fretted over when the Federal Reserve will raise a key borrowing rate.
"The only major index that was green for St. Patrick's Day was the Nasdaq as Apple climbed almost 2 percent," Rob Williams, deputy editor of NewsmaxFinance, said on "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax.TV. "Tomorrow, stocks will probably trade in a tight range until the Fed releases its statement. If the tone is dovish, then the market will push to new highs this week."
Story continues below video of NewsmaxTV's market commentary.
Losses were small, but spread across industries. Nine of the 10 sectors of the Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped, led by a 1.2 percent fall in raw-material companies.
Randall Warren, chief investment officer of Warren Financial Service, said he's isn't worried about higher rates, but is bracing for more price swings nonetheless.
"The economy is stronger, and can handle it and people will realize that," he said. "But now we're in the fear phase."
The S&P 500 fell 6.99 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,074.20. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 128.34 points, or 0.7 percent, to 17,849.08. The Dow jumped 228 the day before.
The Nasdaq composite edged up 7.93 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,937.43.
Energy stocks sank as the price of oil slid for the sixth straight day to another six-year low. U.S. benchmark crude fell 42 cents to close at $43.46 a barrel in New York.
In its statement released Wednesday, the Fed is widely expected to drop the word "patient" in describing how long it will wait to raise rates. Many economists think that will signal that the Fed will make its first move in June.
Others aren't so sure, with some predicting the central bank will wait until next year.
Mixed signals on the economy have been adding to the uncertainty.
U.S. employers have added more than 200,000 jobs in each of the past 12 months, and the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.5 percent. That is the lowest rate in seven years.
On the down side, a report on Monday showed output at the nation's factories fell for a third straight month in February.
"We keep getting good economic information, then bad economic information," said Aaron Jett, an equity strategist at Bel-Air Investment Advisors. "There's no conviction about what the Fed will do."
On Tuesday, the Commerce Department said construction of new homes plummeted 17 percent in February from the month before, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 897,000. Bad winter weather in Northeast and Midwest was mostly to blame.
Homebuilder stocks dropped on the news. Hovnanian Enterprises fell 8 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $3.27.
Other stocks in the news:
Apple rose $2.09, or 1.7 percent, to $127.04 on a report in the Wall Street Journal that the iPhone maker is in talks with programmers to include TV networks in an online television service.
Weight Watchers sank 20 cents, or 2 percent, to $9.93 after Credit Suisse downgraded its rating on the stock. The bank said the company faces tough competition from free and lower-cost weight loss alternatives.
American Airlines jumped $3.47, or nearly 7 percent, to $53.69 after news that the carrier will join the S&P 500 index after the close of trading Friday.
The euro strengthened to $1.0603 from $1.0578. The dollar was unchanged at 121.37 yen.
In oil markets, Brent crude for May delivery, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 43 cents to close at $53.51 in London. The Brent contract for April delivery expired Monday at $53.44 a barrel.
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