Wall Street retreated on Thursday, heading for its first loss in four sessions after a mixed bag of quarterly reports and a warning by Verizon Communications that a strike by workers would likely impact its bottom line.
The benchmark S&P 500 index in recent days has rallied to within 1 percent of its May record high, buoyed by a softer dollar and recovering crude prices. But some investors warned that stocks were priced to perfection, leaving little room for quarterly scorecards that fail to inspire.
Tech heavyweights Alphabet and Microsoft were set to hand in their results after the bell.
"Earnings have been decent, outperforming, but outperforming expectations that have been dramatically lowered," said Charlie Johnson, a sales trader at Greentree Brokerage Services in Philadelphia. "So it's like a shell game."
Crude fell about 1 percent, but hovered near five-month highs after the International Energy Agency said 2016 would see the biggest fall in non-OPEC production in 25 years. Oil and U.S. stock prices have been moving in lockstep for several months.
Weighing most on the S&P 500, Verizon's shares slumped 4.3 percent after the company said a strike by its wireline workers was expected to hurt earnings this quarter.
At 2:23 p.m., the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.53 percent to 18,001.04 points and the S&P 500 had lost 0.46 percent to 2,092.68.
The Nasdaq Composite edged down 0.07 percent to 4,944.86.
Nine of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower. Verizon pulled the telecom sector down 2.17 percent and weighed the most on the S&P 500.
Travelers fell 5.8 percent after the property and casualty insurer reported a 17 percent fall in profit. The stock was the biggest drag on the Dow.
S&P 500 companies are expected to post a 7.2 percent fall in profit on average, and a 1.4 percent decline in revenue.
As much as 77 percent of the S&P companies that have reported so far in the first quarter have beaten profit estimates, compared with the 63 percent that surprise in a typical quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
American Express shares climbed 1.3 percent after revenue rose for the first time in five quarters, while Mattel sank 6.3 percent after sales fell.
Under Armour rose 7.6 percent, while General Motors added 1.3 percent after both reported better-than-expected profits.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,751 to 1,193. On the Nasdaq, 1,494 issues fell and 1,256 rose.
The S&P 500 index showed 10 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 42 new highs and 12 lows.
(Additional reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernadette Baum)
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