Wall Street was lower on Thursday ahead of the long Easter weekend, as Wells Fargo led declines in financial stocks and gains in the dollar hurt commodities.
Wells Fargo's 2.2 percent drop was the biggest drag on the S&P 500. UBS started coverage of the bank's stock with a "sell" rating, citing cloudy revenue outlook and credit risks that extend beyond its energy portfolio.
The dollar was on track for its best streak in almost a year as recent comments by U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers suggested their support for more than one increase in interest rates this year, with the first perhaps as early as April.
St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee, became the latest official to take a hawkish stance after he said on Thursday that another hike "may not be far off."
The comments are in contrast with Fed Chair Janet Yellen's cautious tone on raising rates as the central bank remains data dependant and wary of weak global financial and economic conditions.
"The outlook for most investors is caution," said Amir Madden, portfolio manager at asset management firm GAM in New York.
Madden said the lack of clear guidance on the Fed's move, poor visibility on earnings and geopolitical concerns would weigh on investor sentiment.
Oil prices, which had recovered from a rout that sent both benchmarks to multi-year lows, fell on the strong dollar and record-high U.S. crude inventories.
At 12:31 p.m. ET (1631 GMT), the Dow Jones industrial average was down 70.95 points, or 0.41 percent, at 17,431.64, the S&P 500 was down 10.07 points, or 0.49 percent, at 2,026.64 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 17.45 points, or 0.37 percent, at 4,751.42.
Eight of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower, led by a 1.3 percent fall in the financial sector. Goldman Sachs was down 1.9 percent at $151.15 and weighed the most on the Dow.
Data on Thursday also showed durable goods orders fell less than estimated in February, while better-than-expected jobless claims data showed the labor market was stronger than previously thought.
Staples shares were up 8.3 percent at $10.88 after a report said a U.S. judge rebuked the Federal Trade Commission's legal tactics in the Staples and Office Depot merger case.
PVH Corp was up 8.3 percent, while Signet Jewelers and Accenture were up about 4 percent after strong quarterly results.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,865 to 1,018. On the Nasdaq, 1,594 issues fell and 1,055 rose.
The S&P 500 index showed seven new 52-week highs and one new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 14 new highs and 45 new lows.
(Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva)
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Updated Date: Mar 24, 2016 23:30:29 IST