U.S. stocks declined on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 retreating from its record, as news from China hit commodity prices, concern about Ukraine lingered and investors awaited signals on the direction of the economy.
"Equities are in a holding pattern around all-time highs, and are likely to be so for the next couple of weeks as investors wait for some clarity on the economy. We need another round of economic readings to get a better measure on the pace of economic growth," said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.
On Monday, stocks fell as a deceleration in China's exports had investors concerned about the global economy.
(Read more: stocks end lower on global-growth concerns.)
"The news out of China is weighing on some of the commodity prices, steel, things like that. There are concerns about how it might impact U.S. corporations, such as Cliffs Natural Resources," said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners.
And, a default last on a bond payment by China's Chaori Solar rattled the copper market, leading to three days of heavy selling.
"Investors are also tentative with the market so close to all-time highs," Pavlik added.
General Motors dropped on news that a House committee would probe the response of the auto manufacturer and regulators to complaints about ignition-switch problems that led to at least 13 deaths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac both stumbled as both U.S.-owned mortgage companies would be folded and private interests would be responsible for the first 10 percent of mortgage losses under a bill that the leaders of Senate Banking Committee plans to introduce within days. Shares of American Eagle Outfitters fell after the teen-apparel retailer projected current-quarter earnings below Wall Street estimates, saying the harsh winter had cut into demand; J.C. Penney climbed after Citi upgraded the department-store chain to a "buy" from "neutral."
After a 41-point rise and 93-point fall, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 67.43 points, or 0.4 percent, to 16,351.25, with 20 of its 30 components in negative turf.
The shed 9.54 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,867.63, with energy and materials hardest hit and all but one of its 10 major sectors in the red.
The Nasdaq declined 27.26 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,307.19.
For every share rising, more than two fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where nearly 643 million shares traded. Composite volume approached 3.4 billion.
The CBOE Volatility Index, a measure of investor uncertainty, rose 3.5 percent to 14.69.
Ukraine's interior minister reportedly said Tuesday the country could mobilize 20,000 to protect its borders. Russia has nearly 19,000 troops in Crimea, according to Ukraine officials.
"The Ukraine government had bases and armories in Crimea and the Russians are neutralizing them as it prepares for annexation following the referendum this coming weekend," emailed Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy, Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., referring to a referendum in Crimea Sunday on whether to secede.
Data Tuesday had wholesale inventories rising a more-than-expected 0.6 percent in January, but sales fell the most in almost five years.
The number is never market moving and "we look to Thursday's retail sales and jobless claims and Friday's PPI as more relevant for markets ahead of next week's CPI and FOMC meeting," offered Peter Boockvar, chief market strategist at the Lindsey Group.
—By CNBC's Kate Gibson
Coming Up This Week:
Earnings: Urban Outfitters, United Natural Foods
01:00 p.m.: $30 billion three-year Treasury auction
Earnings: Express, Williams-Sonoma, Krispy Kreme, Vail Resorts
7:00 a.m.: Mortgage applications
10:30 a.m.: EIA oil and gasoline inventories
1:00 p.m.: $21 billion 10-year Treasury auction
2:00 p.m.: Federal budget
Earnings: Dollar General, Sea World, Zumiez, Aeropostale, Ulta Salon
8:30 a.m.: Initial claims
8:30 a.m.: Retail sales
8:30 a.m.: Import prices
10:00 a.m.: Business inventories
10:00 a.m.: Senate Banking Fed nomination hearing
10:30 a.m.: EIA natural gas storage
1:00 p.m.: $13 billion 30-year Treasury auction
Earnings: Ann, the Buckle
8:30 a.m.: PPI
9:55 a.m.: Consumer sentiment
9:45 p.m.: Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher
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