U.S. stocks fell on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average extending losses into a third session, as Wall Street considers when the Federal Reserve will cut stimulus.
"The thought that has emerged since last week is perhaps the numbers are so good the Fed will taper a little sooner," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade. "Plus, we've been at all-time highs and people want to protect themselves as we head into year-end."
Tesla Motors jumped after the maker of electric cars said a German probe into recent fires involving its Model S sedan did not uncover any manufacturer-related defects, and Morgan Stanley made the company its top choice in the American auto sector.
Materials and financials were the hardest hit, while utilities and consumer staples fared best among the 10 major industry groups on the S&P 500, which lost 5.75 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,795.15.
The Nasdaq Composite shed 8.06 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,037.20.
The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, a measure of investor uncertainty, rose to a six-week high.
For every two stocks rising, more than three gained on the New York Stock Exchange, where nearly 770 million shares traded. Composite volume topped 3.4 billion.
"Ben Bernanke or Janet Yellen will not determine when the Fed tapers," Nick Raich, chief executive officer at the Earnings Scout, wrote in a research note, referring to the chairman of the Fed and his appointed successor. "Instead it will be the bond market. If interest rates spike too much ahead of a taper, there is a great chance economic activity slows, as it did in the summer, and the Fed will be forced to maintain its current level of bond purchases," Raich added.
The three Detroit automakers and two of Japan's top three reported year-to-year increases in November sales on Tuesday, with aggressive discounting helping propel the numbers well above expectations.
"Investors are unlikely to flinch at any deviations in vehicle sales given the established rebound in auto sales," Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak, wrote in emailed commentary.
—By CNBC's Kate Gibson
Coming Up This Week:
Tuesday: Motor vehicle sales for November.Earnings expected after the close include Bob Evans and United Natural Foods.
Wednesday: ADP employment report for November at 8:15 a.m. Eastern; trade deficit figures for October at 8:30 a.m. Eastern; ISM nonmanufacturing for November at 10 a.m. Eastern; New home sales for October at 10 a.m. Eastern; Federal Reserve's Beige Book at 2 p.m. Eastern. Earnings before the market open include Brown-Forman and Express. Earnings after the close are expected to include Avago Tech, Synopsys, Aeropostale, Guess and Mattress Firm.
Thursday: weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. Eastern; GDP revision for the third quarter at 8:30 a.m. Eastern; factory orders for October at 10 a.m. Eastern. Earnings expected before the open include Canadian Imperial Bank; Dollar General; Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion and Toro. Earnings expected after the market close include Cooper Cos., Ulta Salon, Esterline Tech, Finisar, Veeva Systems and Zumiez.
Friday: Nonfarm payrolls report for November at 8:30 a.m. Eastern; unemployment rate for November at 8:30 a.m. Eastern; personal income for October at 8:30 a.m. Eastern; consumer spending for october at 8:30 a.m. Eastern. Core PCE price index for October at 8:30 a.m. Eastern and University of Michigan/Reuters consumer sentiment index for December at 9:55 a.m. Eastern. Earnings ahead of the open are expected to include Bank of Nova Scotia, American Eagle Outfitters and Big Lots.
More From CNBC.com: