Investors adopted a wait-and-see attitude on the economy, despite Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's improved assessment, and bid stocks modestly lower Wednesday as Wall Street waits for better economic and earnings news.
While Greenspan said the economy has "regained some traction" after the summer's slowdown, investors looked past his congressional testimony, focusing instead on uncertainty about the health of the economy, third-quarter earnings forecasts and fiscal policy.
Greenspan gave no strong indications whether the Fed would raise interest rates at its Sept. 21 meeting. While many analysts believe an increase of a quarter percentage point is likely, others wonder whether election-year politics will cause the Fed to skip a rate hike until November. The benchmark rate stands at 1.5 percent.
Between the economy and the election, I don't think the Fed will raise rates this month, said David Legeay, senior vice president at McDonald Financial Group. "It's still a show-me recovery, and a lot of businesses are waiting to see how the economy fares and what the Fed will do before they make any big investments."
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 29.43, or 0.3 percent, to 10,313.36. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index declined 5.03, or 0.4 percent, to 1116.27, while the Nasdaq composite index dropped 7.92, or 0.4 percent, to 1850.64.
Coca-Cola, a component of the Dow, dropped $2.20, to $43.45, after its chief bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises, issued warnings about its third-quarter earnings and reduced its full-year outlook because of lower demand for the company's soft drinks. Coca-Cola Enterprises fell $1.11, to $19.48.
Fast-food chain McDonald's said its sales from stores open at least a year rose 3.9 percent in August, citing improved services and more menu options. McDonald's gained 12 cents, to $27.50.
Dean Foods tumbled $6.73, to $30.40, after cutting its outlook for the quarter and the year, citing competition and rising costs for milk, fuel, resin and other commodities.
McKesson fell $4.85, or 15.2 percent, to $26.98, after the pharmaceutical distributor warned that its earnings for the fiscal quarter would fall short of expectations because of fewer drug price increases than expected.
* The New York Stock Exchange composite index fell 21.55, to 6534.09; the American Stock Exchange index fell 1.12, to 1239.03; and the Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks fell 5.14, to 557.79.
* Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones by 13 to 9 on the NYSE, where trading volume rose to 1.25 billion shares, from 1.21 billion on Tuesday. On the Nasdaq Stock Market, decliners outnumbered advancers by 5 to 3 and volume totaled 1.42 billion, up from 1.3 billion.
* The price of the Treasury's 10-year note rose $5.94 per $1,000 invested, and its yield fell to 4.16 percent, from 4.24 percent on Tuesday.
* The dollar fell against the Japanese yen and the euro. In late New York trading, a dollar bought 109.25 yen, down from 109.39 late Tuesday, and a euro bought $1.2191, up from $1.2098.
* Light, sweet crude oil for October delivery settled at $42.77, down 54 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
* Gold for current delivery rose to $399.40 a troy ounce, from $397.40 on Tuesday, on the New York Mercantile Exchange's Commodity Exchange.