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US stocks close near session lows on heightened Ukraine worries

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U.S. stocks slid on Wednesday, with benchmark indexes failing to maintain a second day of gains, after President Barack Obama cautioned against complacency on Russian moves in Ukraine.

"The statement by President Obama with regard to perhaps stiffening sanctions being applied to Russia" prompted equities to erase gains and turn lower, said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott.

Ukraine and the International Monetary Fund held bailout discussions Wednesday as the United States and European allies cautioned that they would take further steps if Russia escalates the crisis after annexing Crimea.

Speaking in Brussels, Obama said Russia's actions had to be condemned.

"The geopolitical tensions persist, given that anytime you get a spark it's enough to give investors pause, especially when the U.S. equity market is fully valued, so anything less than good gives some trouble to market participants between valuations being full but still being the best game in town," said Luschini.

"Durable goods at face value looked okay, but the inside numbers were weak," Luschini added of the report from the Commerce Department.

"Better than expected is not enough to move us a lot higher than where we are here. We need to see more gas in the tanks, the market needs more data that says 'yes, we see growth accelerating' as we transition from weather-related soft data," aid Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities.

"The headline-beating 2.2 percent jump in orders for new durable goods in February was driven by a rebound in the transport sector. Stripping out that volatile component saw orders rise by a more humble 0.2 percent," noted Andrew Wilkinson, chief market analyst at Interactive Brokers.

"Relative to expectations the report showed pockets of strength, but failed overall to signal the final passage of a cruel winter," Wilkinson added.

Financial-data firm Markit reported its Purchasing Managers Index hit 55.8 in March, up from 54.1 a month earlier.

Facebook fell after acquiring Oculus VR, which makes virtual-reality headsets. King Digital Entertainment declined in its first day as a publicly traded company, with the maker of the mobile game "Candy Crush" pricing its shares at $22.50 Tuesday after the market closed.

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After a 98-point jump, the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 98.89 points, or 0.6 percent, to 16,268.99, with JPMorgan Chase pacing declines that included 26 of 30 components.

The S&P 500 shed 13.06 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,852.56, with materials and technology hardest hit and health care faring best among its 10 major industries.

After the market close, the Federal Reserve follows up on its yearly stress tests of the nation's 30 largest lenders, with regulators expected to signal whether institutions including Citigroup and Bank of America can go ahead with proposed dividends and share buybacks.

"A lot of people expect big payments from Bank of America and Citi," said Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices.

(Read: near record for S&P dividends and share buybacks)

The Nasdaq fell 60.69 points, or 1.4 percent, to 4,173.58.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), a measure of investor uncertainty, rose 6.5 percent to 14.93.

For every stock rising, roughly two fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where 752 million shares traded. Composite volume surpassed 3.5 billion.

The dollar gained against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners and the 10-year Treasury yield fell 5 basis points to 2.694 percent.

Crude-oil futures for May delivery increased by $1.07 to $100.26 a barrel; gold futures for April delivery fell $8.00 to $1,303.40 an ounce.

On Tuesday, U.S. stocks finished higher for the first session in three after data had consumer confidence hitting a six-year high.

—By CNBC's Kate Gibson

Coming Up This Week:

Thursday

Earnings: Accenture, Lululemon Athletica, Signet Jewelers,Commercial Metals, GameStop, Leidos Holdings, Winnebago Industries,Worthington Industries, Red Hat, Oxford Industries,Restoration Hardware Holdings,Voxeljet

8:30 a.m.: GDP revision Q4

8:30 a.m.: Weekly jobless claims

8:30 a.m.: Fed's Pianalto speaks

10 a.m.: Pending home sales index for February

10:30 a.m.: Natural gas inventories

11 a.m.: Kansas City Fed manufacturing index

1 p.m.: Seven-year note auction

4 p.m. Fed balance sheet/money supply

9:30 p.m.: Fed's Evans speaks

Friday

Earnings: Blackberry

8:30 a.m.: Personal income and consumer spending for February

9:55 a.m.: University of Michigan/Reuters consumer sentiment for March

1:15 p.m.: Fed's George speaks

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