After fluctuating on either side of neutral, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 32.43 points, or 0.2 percent, to 15,750.67, with Travelers Companies pacing losses that included 17 of its 30 components.
Financials and utilities led sector losses on the S&P 500, which lost 4.2 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,767.69. The Nasdaq gained a fraction to 3,919.92, after fluctuating on either side of neutral for portions of the session.
Decliners outpaced advancers nearly 2-to-1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where 653 million shares traded. Composite volume approached 3.2 billion.
"I wouldn't mind seeing the market consolidate here and then be ready for some acceleration," said Tom Lee, JPMorgan's chief U.S. equity strategist. There could be a slight pullback by the end of the year, with the S&P possibly dipping back to 1,700, Lee added. "I think we could see something like that; it could be an entry point."
US Airways and American Airlines reached agreement with the U.S. Justice Department that has the airlines giving up airport slots to clear the way towards their merger.
D.R. Horton rallied after the home builder reported quarterly revenue that beat expectations.
Shares of News Corp. fell after the publisher of the Wall Street Journal late Monday reported less-than-expected revenue; Dish Network rose after the company posted quarterly results that beat estimates as it added far more pay-TV subscribers than anticipated.
The U.S. dollar edged higher against a basket of other global currencies including the yen, while borrowing costs reflected in the 10-year Treasury note rose, with the yield on the benchmark added 2 basis points to 2.77 percent.
On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude-oil futures for December delivery fell $2.10, or 2.3 percent, to $93.04 a barrel, its lowest settlement since May 31; Gold futures for December delivery fell $9.90, or 0.8 percent, to $1,271.20 an ounce.
Both the Dow and the S&P 500 have hit record heights, the latter at the end of October, as the Federal Reserve held off on reducing its $85 billion in monthly asset purchases, also known as quantitative easing. And, better-than-expected corporate earnings and the most recent jobs report bolstered the view that the economy could be strong enough to handle Fed tightening.
After-the-bell earnings are expected from companies including MBIA, Potbelly and Babcock and Wilcox.