NEW YORK Healthcare and materials stocks weighed down Wall Street on Tuesday in a second straight day of generally quiet trading as cautious investors awaited news from the U.S. Federal Reserve's two-day policy meeting.
While the Fed is not expected to raise interest rates at its meeting ending on Wednesday, investors will scour Fed chair Janet Yellen's comments for clues indicating a path for future rate hikes.
"Everybody's waiting for what the Fed meeting will come up with," said Mohannad Aama, managing director of Beam Capital Management LLC in New York. "It's not unusual to have a couple quiet days before that."
Ahead of the Fed meeting outcome, smaller stocks sold off faster than bigger ones in an effort by investors to reduce risk, Aama said.
U.S. retail sales fell less than expected in February, but a sharp downward revision to January's data could reignite concerns about the economy's growth prospects.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was down 5.89 points, or 0.03 percent, to 17,223.24, the S&P 500 .SPX had lost 7.53 points, or 0.37 percent, to 2,012.11 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC had dropped 26.64 points, or 0.56 percent, to 4,723.64.
Healthcare was the worst performing sector, down 1.8 percent.
Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc (VRX.N) slid 50 percent to $34.47 in its busiest-ever trading day. The Canadian drugmaker cut its 2016 revenue forecast and flagged the risk of defaulting on its debt, eroding investor confidence in the troubled company.
Eli Lilly (LLY.N) was down 3.7 percent at $71.17 after the drugmaker narrowed the goals of a key study of its experimental Alzheimer's drug. The stock was one of the biggest drags on the S&P 500.
Materials stocks .SPLRCM fell 1.3 percent.
Oil prices, which dragged the S&P energy sector .SPNY, were down 1 percent.
Apple (AAPL.O) was up 2.1 percent at $104.65 after Morgan Stanley said March iPhone demand was tracking ahead of expectations.
Mead Johnson (MJN.N) rose 10.6 percent to $83.40 with traders attributing gains to a report that sparked deal chatter.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 2,289 to 714, for a 3.21-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 2,087 issues fell and 686 advanced for a 3.04-to-1 ratio favouring decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 18 new 52-week highs and 1 new low; the Nasdaq recorded 29 new highs and 38 new lows.
(Additional reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Don Sebastian and Nick Zieminski)
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