Shares at Goldman Sachs fell on the same day as a much-discussed op-ed piece ran in the New York Times from former executive Greg Smith. He said he is leaving the vaunted Wall Street giant because "the firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for."
Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein and President Gary Cohn issued a sharp rebuttal.
"Needless to say, we were disappointed to read the assertions made by this individual that do not reflect our values, our culture and how the vast majority of people at Goldman Sachs think about the firm and the work it does on behalf of our clients," they said in a joint memo.
The market also wrestled with the latest news out of the Federal Reserve, which held its zero-interest-rate policy in a decision released Tuesday that also included conflicting views on economic progress.
The upshot was that the market still has little direction on if and when the central bank will implement a third round of quantitative easing.
"Most officials have set conditions on future balance sheet expansion and for now the issue is moot because recovery is proceeding on track, risks of deflation have faded and easing measures are still paying dividends," said Citigroup economist Robert V. DiClemente.
In economic news, import prices rose a less-than-expected 0.4 percent in February as a drop in food prices offset a 1.8 percent surge in petroleum costs. The U.S. current account deficit, meanwhile, hit a three-year high of $124.1 billion.
Also, the Mortgage Bankers Association said demand for home loansposted a net decline of 2.4 percent, but actually rose 4.4 percent excluding a drop in refinancing requests.
Home builder stocks were volatile, with Beazer posting a gain while the rest of the group moved lower.
Across other markets, commodity prices were broadly negative as the dollar gained against the euro and surged against the yen.