U.S. stocks closed down in low volume trade on Tuesday, pressured by weakness abroad and a sharp decline in the utilities sector.
"I wouldn't read too much into (utilities' decline) at this point given the slow day today, so some of the moves are bound to be exaggerated," Bespoke Investment Group co-founder Paul Hickey said in an email.
Composite volume held near 2 billion on the New York Stock Exchange, below average levels of 3.3 billion. The Dow Jones Industrial Average also fell below the 18,000 level in the close.
"A lot of people are not at their desks. Any sentiment gets blown out of proportion these days," said Kim Forrest, senior equity analyst at Fort Pitt Capital. During the last two days of trading before the new year, her firm is "tidying up and taking some losses," she said.
Other analysts did not see any apparent reason for the slide of as much as 2.2 percent in the traditionally high-yielding sector, especially since bond yields were also on the decline.
"There's no specific reason for it," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. "The only thing I can think of is low volume, last minute switching of sectors."
"Next year, the market is expecting a change in interest rates," he added. "Some window dressing is going on here by institutions."
Adrian Day of Adrian Day Asset Management also noted that "many of the stocks that people buy for income—including utilities—are down significantly."
The Dow Jones Utilities Average also traded lower, off Monday's closing high.
On Monday, the utilities sector led the S&P 500 to its 53rd record close for the year. The sector is still up nearly 27 percent for the year.
"Utilities have basically gone parabolic here, which is dangerous, especially when it's utilities," said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group. "It's not the most encouraging thing."
Stocks held to a narrow trading range in light volume trade on Monday, closing the day with the S&P and Russell 2000 at records and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ending its 8-day win streak.
Concerns about Greece's failure to elect a new president on Monday continued to weigh on global markets on Tuesday, with Asian and European stocks closing down 1 percent.
"Most of the world is down today," Boockvar said. "I think there's concerns about Greece and how that might affect Draghi (and QE)."
Other than a slight worry about Greece's long-term participation in the Euro, Mark Luschini of Janney Montgomery Scott said there's "not much news that would undermine markets."
The December reading of the Conference Board's consumer confidence index came in slightly lower-than-expected at 92.6.
Earlier, the Case-Shiller house price index for October showed that U.S. single-family home prices' rate of increase continued to decelerate in October since the stronger-than-expected rise seen in the previous month.