Stocks finish slightly lower

NEW YORK — U.S. stocks closed slightly lower Wednesday as the market gave back some of its gains a day after the S&P 500 and Nasdaq hit record highs.

Energy stocks led the modest slide as crude oil prices fell after a three-day rally. Communications companies also helped pull the market lower, offsetting gains in real estate and other sectors. Bond prices rose as traders took a more defensive approach.

Stocks wavered between small gains and losses through much of the day as investors continued to wade through a steady flow of corporate earnings. Analysts have been expecting a contraction in first-quarter corporate profits, but the results so far have been mostly solid.

That trend continued Wednesday with strong reports from e-commerce company eBay, industrial giant Caterpillar and health insurer Anthem.

“The pace of earnings beats is at a very nice level, certainly exceeding diminished expectations,” said Eric Wiegand, senior portfolio manager for Private Wealth Management at U.S. Bank. “The strength of the dollar has been, perhaps, a little bit of a weight on markets today.”

The S&P 500 index fell 6.43 points, or 0.2%, to 2,927.25. The benchmark index closed at a record high on Tuesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 59.34 points, or 0.2%, to 26,597.05. The Nasdaq composite lost 18.81 points, or 0.2%, to 8,102.01. The index was also coming off a record high close.

Small-company stocks fared better than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index picked up 3.04 points, or 0.2%, to 1,588.13.

Despite the overall decline in the major indexes, slightly more stocks rose than fell on the New York Stock Exchange. Major European stock indexes finished mostly lower.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10 year Treasury note fell to 2.52% from 2.57% late Tuesday.

The U.S. stock market mounted a strong recovery this year after finishing 2018 in a steep slump fueled by fears of recession, an escalating trade war between the U.S. and China, and concern the Federal Reserve was moving too aggressively to raise interest rates.

Those worries have been mostly quelled this year amid greater confidence in the economy and reassurances that the Fed is unlikely to raise interest rates this year.

Traders have also been more confident in the prospects for corporate earnings growth as companies have begun reporting solid first quarter results.

A little more than a quarter of S&P 500 companies have issued their first quarter report cards so far, resulting in overall earnings growth of 2.4%. Still, analysts are forecasting that earnings will be down 3% by the time all the S&P 500 companies deliver their results. That would be the first decline since the spring of 2016.

Energy stocks fell more than the 10 other S&P 500 sectors, losing 1.9%. National Oilwell Varco led the way lower, shedding 5.1%.

The slide came as the price of U.S. crude oil snapped a three-day winning streak.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 0.6% to settle at $65.89 per barrel. Oil had been climbing recently since dropping below $43 in late December. Brent crude rose 0.1% to $74.57 per barrel.

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