Herbalife turned negative after CEO Michael Johnson defended his company on CNBC after activist investor Bill Ackman called the firm an unsustainable "pyramid scheme." Meanwhile, hedge-fund manager Daniel Loeb's Third Point said Wednesday it had taken a stake of more than 8 percent in the company. (Read More: Herbalife President—Ackman's Claims a 'Gross Distortion')
Tiffany tumbled after the luxury goods retailer said its holiday season same-store sales were unchanged from the same period a year ago, below its own expectations, and added its fiscal-year earnings will be near the low-end of its prior estimates.
Ford Motor gained after the automaker declared it is doubling its quarterly dividend to 10 cents a share, just nine months after it announced its first dividend in nearly five years.
Apple CEO Tim Cook met with China Mobile's chairman in Shanghai, to discuss what the company calls "matters of cooperation." No details were given, but the meeting raised hopes that Apple may finally strike an iPhone carriage deal with China Mobile. Separately, Piper Jaffray lowered its price target on the tech giant to $875 from $900.
Microsoft slipped after Morgan Stanley downgraded the Dow component to "equal weight" from "overweight," citing disappointment regarding Windows 8 and a weak PC market.
Facebook rallied after closing above $30 a share in the previous session for the first time in six months. Late Tuesday, the social-networking giant sent out a press event invitation for next week, with traders and strategists buzzing about a possible phone or a search engine.
Nokia surged after the struggling Finnish handset maker said its fourth-quarter results were better than expected and that the mobile phone business achieved underlying profitability.
Chevron is scheduled to post its interim earnings after the closing bell.
Treasury prices pared their losses after the government auctioned $13 billion in 30-year notes at a high yield of 3.070 percent. The bid-to-cover was 2.77.
On the economic front, weekly jobless claims rose 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 371,000, according to the Labor Department. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a total of 365,000 new filings compared with 372,000 in the prior week.
And wholesale inventories rose 0.6 percent to a record $498.95 billion in November, according to the Commerce Department, topping expectations for a gain of 0.3 percent.