Stocks End Lower on Global Fears; Banks Gain

Stocks eased off their worst levels but still finished lower Wednesday, led by materials and energy, amid worries over weakness overseas.

All three major indexes tumbled 1 percent across the board at their session lows.

Despite the day's pullback, stocks are still poised to log their best quarterly gain in almost 14 years.

S&P 500

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped 71.52 points, or 0.54 percent, to close at 13,126.21, led by Alcoa and Caterpillar. Still, the blue-chip index is still on track to log its sixth-consecutive month of gains.

AmEx and BofA led the Dow gainers.

The S&P 500 declined 6.98 points, or 0.49 percent, to finish at 1,405.54. The Nasdaq fell 15.39 points, or 0.49 percent, to end at 3,104.96.

The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, finished below 16 after spiking nearly 10 percent earlier in the session.

Most of the key S&P sectors closed lower, led by materials and energy, while financials popped into positive territory.

Despite the day’s selloff, stocks are still on track to log their best quarter since 1998.

“This is a good time for investors to rebalance their portfolios and take some profits,” said Mickey Cargile, founder and managing partner of Cargile Investment Management. “We don’t believe the strength in the first quarter will carry through into the second and third based on evidence that the economy is slowing.”

On the economic front, durable goods orders rose less than expectedat 2.2 percent in February, while future business investment also missed forecasts, according to the Commerce Department.

Meanwhile, Spain is believed to have entered its second recession in three years. Still, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said he was not worriedabout economic troubles in Spain spreading to the rest of Europe.

And economic growth in the UK contracted more than expected in the fourth quarter. The ECB said private-sector loan growth for the euro zone slowed to 0.7 percent in February.

“The global recovery is not as robust as we may have thought or wished it was,” said Todd Schoenberger, managing director of LandColt Trading. “All the news out there is telling us that there was nothing organic about this rally.”

Annie’s skyrocketed almost 90 percent in its market debut. The organic food company sold 5 million shares of its initial public offering at $19 a share, above the expected range of $16 to $18.

Apple hit another all-time high. Most recently, the tech giant said it will offer buyers of its new iPad in Australia a refund after it was accused of misleading advertising. (Read More:Half of US Homes Are Owners of Apple Products)

Nokia climbed after the struggling cellphone company launched its first smartphone in China, which will be supported by one of the country's three major state-owned carriers.

Meanwhile, oil prices tumbled near $105 a barrelafter a government report showed crude stocks rose more than expected last week. And gold fell below $1,680 an ounce.

Freeport-McMoRan and Newmont Mining were among the biggest laggards in the materials group.

Among banks, a late-day rally in the regionals helped boost the financial sector into positive territory. BB&T , Hudson City and PNC Financial Services were among the top gainers.

Among earnings, Family Dollar Stores edged higher after the dollar-store chain posted better-than-expected earnings, thanks to strong sales during the holiday season.

Best Buy and Research In Motion are slated to post earnings on Thursday.

On the M&A front, Pentair surged after the water treatment maker agreed to merge with Tyco International's pipes and valves unit, valuing the business at nearly $4.5 billion. Meanwhile, S&P Capital raised its price target on Pentair by to $55 from $40.

Weekly mortgage applications gained last week, while refinancing demand fell for a sixth-straight week as interest rates climbed, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Treasury prices remained flatafter the government auctioned $35 billion in 5-year notes at high yield of 10.40 percent and bid-to-cover of 2.85.

—Follow JeeYeon Park on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC

Coming Up This Week:

THURSDAY: GDP, jobless claims, corporate profits, Fed's Plosser speaks, 7-yr note auction, farm prices, Fed's Lacker speaks; Earnings from Best Buy, Research In Motion
FRIDAY: Personal income & outlays, Chicago PMI, consumer sentiment, Stringer's last day as Sony CEO

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