Stocks closed mostly lower as investors took a break from their recent buying spree in the technology sector and found few reasons to buy in the broader market.
Major market averages gave up early gains to finish with modest losses. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 38.53 to close at 11,068.12.
The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index fell 5.29, to 1403.88, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 0.84, to 3586.08.
Brian G. Belski, chief investment strategist at George K. Baum & Co., described the choppy movements in the Dow and the S&P 500 as "backing and filling." Those indexes are pausing after last week's steep run-up, trying to muster strength for the next upward move, he said.
The Nasdaq ended a string of four consecutive record closes. The latest was Tuesday, when the technology-dominated index rose to its 20th new record close since Oct. 29, largely because of a 23 percent gain by Internet search company Yahoo.
Yahoo was added to the S&P 500 after the close of trading Tuesday, a move that pushed its stock price higher as index fund managers bought shares. Today, Yahoo fell 28 3/8, to 319 5/8, as investors collected profits.
Market leaders like Dell and Intel also slipped. Dell lost 1 7/8, to 43 1/2, and Intel fell 2-11/16, to 74 1/2.
"The market has been correcting in a very quiet way," said Barry Hyman, senior equity analyst at Ehrenkrantz King Nussbaum. While the largest technology stocks have bounded higher in recent weeks, most stocks have languished.
That's partially due to the calendar: As portfolio managers polish their holdings for end-of-year reports, they buy the best-performing stocks and shed any laggards, Hyman said.
"All the money is chasing the same handful of names, and that won't change until the end of the year," Hyman said.
To that end, investors sought out technology shares that have performed well this year. Hewlett Packard gained 3-63/128, to 109-13/16, and Amazon.com rose 2 1/2, to 88-9/16.
Bill Miller, president of Legg Mason Fund Advisor Inc., said that as the year winds down, investors appear to be applying stricter standards to the Internet companies that have dominated the market for much of the year.
"There's a high degree of expectation, but many of these companies don't have business models that are sustainable," he said. Miller singled out Amazon.com and America Online as companies that have fortified their business plans and attracted enough customers to prove their merit on Wall Street.
Beyond technology, investors continued their pattern of harshly punishing companies that disappoint Wall Street. Shares of Lands' End plummeted 14 1/8, to 43 5/8, after the company said November sales fell 18 percent from last year. The company drastically cut the number of catalogue pages distributed to customers in an effort to boost profits.
Coca-Cola rose 1, to 60, edging back from a steep decline in each of the past two sessions. Coke's chairman and chief executive resigned Monday after just 2 1/2 years in the top job, prompting some analysts to wonder whether the company's recent troubles may continue.
Overall, analysts say the backdrop for stocks remains favorable, with the latest economic indicators pointing to strong growth without significant inflation. The Federal Reserve said today that its latest regional survey showed "moderate to strong" growth but steady prices and wages.
In after-hours trading, Bloomberg News reported, Perle Systems shares fell after tripling in regular trading on news that the company would issue free software by the end of the year. Perle aims to make its devices compatible with the Linux computer operating system. Perle shares fell 1-11/16, to 12, in after-hours trading of 107,529 shares. The stock rose 8-29/32, to 13-11/16, during regular hours and earlier reached a 52-week high of 20 3/8.