U.S. stocks tumbled and the Dow Jones industrial average fell as much as 113 points Wednesday as investors watched the elusive 20,000 mark slowly slip away.
The Dow could not avoid its second triple-digit loss since the election. The index closed 0.56 percent lower, at 19,833.68. Now, investors are beginning to lose hope in seeing the Dow hit 20,000 before New Year's.
"Just because the market is down now, doesn't mean a correction is forthcoming," Kevin Mahn, president and chief investment officer of Hennion & Walsh Asset Management, said. "Most clients are looking to take losses in their portfolio right now, not re-position themselves."
Mahn said he thinks the market has "raced up too high too fast" and is taking a breather. A lot of the gains from early 2017 may have taken place already, he said, and without very many specifics from President-elect Donald Trump on how his administration will grow the economy.
The Dow opened slightly higher before turning negative. The only gainer of the group was Travelers Companies, which was up less than a tenth of a percent. On the other hand, Caterpillar, Intel and Boeing pushed the index down.
"There is a wave of optimism that's taken over Wall Street since the election either from the Trump trade or from a better sentiment of the prospects for U.S. economic growth in 2017," Mahn said.
Investors were expecting a positive day, citing a lack of "macro news" and the possibility of oil powering the Dow over the 20,000 milestone. The Dow Jones transportation average certainly had an effect on stocks, finishing the day down 1.2 percent all of its constituents negative.
The president-elect's team said on the transition call Wednesday morning that Trump is expected to release an "economic development message" after the market closes. The announcement will be "very positive for American workers," his team said.
To put things in perspective, Wednesday marked the 10th trading session since the Dow first came within 0.25 percent of 20,000. Although it took only one trading session for the benchmark average to cross 19,000 after first coming within 0.25 percent of it, that hasn't been the case with other recent milestones.
It took 12 trading sessions for the Dow to gain the last 0.25 percent until finally surpassing the 18,000 milestone. Before it crossed over the 17,000 mark in July 2014, investors had to bear through 18 trading sessions of being within a quarter percent of the level.
The ended the day down 0.84 percent after every sector turned negative. Financials and materials finished a little more than 1 percent lower.
The NASDAQ Composite closed 0.89 percent lower.
On the data front, pending home sales fell, driving the National Association of Realtors Home Sales Index down 2.5 percent in November from October. Consensus forecasts called for a 0.4 percent increase in home sale contracts signed but not yet closed, following a 0.1 percent rise in October.
The Mortgage Bankers Association did not publish its weekly survey of U.S. mortgage rates and home loan application activity on Wednesday. Instead, it will release results from the previous two weeks on Jan. 4.
The Treasury Department auctioned $34 billion in 5-year notes at a high yield of 2.057 percent, resulting in the strongest demand for those notes since November 2014. The was 2.06 ahead of the note auction, but fell to 2.018 percent almost immediately afterwards.
"We expected a soft reception for the 5-year as it's the most sensitive to Fed hike path and year-end was likely to exact a toll on risk appetite," Aaron Kohli of BMO Capital Markets said. "The auction was fairly strong despite the lack of a concession with the indirect bidding really carrying the day."
Treasury yields ended the day lower, with the 10-year yield at 2.51 percent and the around 1.26 percent.
The U.S. dollar index was higher against the euro, but lower against the yen in late New York trading.
U.S. crude settled at $54.06, setting a fresh 18-month high. The market anticipated tighter supply and the first output cut deal between OPEC and non-OPEC producers in 15 years, which is set to take effect Sunday.
U.S. markets were closed Monday in observance of the Christmas Day holiday, and are closed again next Monday to commemorate New Year's Day. Last Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average posted its first seven-week win streak in two years and was within 70 points of breaking the psychologically key 20,000 mark.
On tap this week:
8:30 a.m. Initial claims
8:30 a.m. International trade
9:45 a.m. Chicago PMI
*Planner subject to change.
—CNBC's Peter Schacknow, Christopher Hayes and Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.
Correction: This story was revised to delete the incorrect starting date of the Santa rally.