Stocks fell just before the close during in another low volume session, but the market remained on track to post the best quarterly results in more than a decade.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell about 20 points after bobbing in and out of positive territory all session and after rallying in the past two sessions.The blue-chip index had gained 6.68 percent for the first quarter through the close on Wednesday, the best result since 1998.
Among Dow components, Intel and American Express slumped, while 3M and Coca-Cola gained.
The S&P 500—which is also on pace to post the best quarterly performance since 1998—was flat, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq rose slightly. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded at about 17.70, largely unchanged.
Among key S&P 500 sectors, materials and industrials rose, while financials and consumer discretionary fell.
Late in the session, the VIX started to fluctuate, indicating some concern on the part of investors ahead of the March unemployment report. "We know it’s coming out and we may ont know what direction it’s going to go," Randy Frederick, head of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab said.
At current levels—below 18—Frederick is concerned the VIX isn't registering the amount of uncertainty still in the market.
While the market has had a strong year so far, stocks are unlikely to post double-digit gains because of geopolitical risks, ranging from troubles in the Middle East and Japan, to the debt concerns in Europe, as well as the threat of looming inflation in the U.S., said Frank Fantozzi, CEO of Planned Financial Services, an LPL Independent Wealth Manager in Cleveland, Ohio.
"That's what’s preventing the market from having a gangbuster year," Fantozzi said.
Volatility is likely to continue because many current concerns aren't resolved, and that will keep stocks rangebound, but Fantozzi expects by year-end, the market will have moved up by "high single digits."
"One of the primary reasons is the financial balance sheets of these companies are the strongest they’ve been in 30 years. They are all very healthy, very strong," he said.