Nov. 14, 2012 at 9:32 AM ET
Stocks fell sharply Wednesday as investors worried over U.S. budget negotiations and a flare-up of violence in the Middle East.
Stock indexes opened higher, but had slipped into negative territory by late-morning trading.
Adding to the selling pressure, Israel launched a major offensive against Palestinian militants in Gaza, killing the military commander of Hamas in an air strike and threatening an invasion of the enclave.
The S&P 500 had fallen 3.8 percent over the past five trading days, with most of the losses driven by uncertainty over the looming U.S. "fiscal cliff" and concerns about Europe's economic troubles.
The index closed below its 200-day moving average for a fourth day in a row on Tuesday, a technical indicator that suggests recent declines could gain momentum.
Trading has been volatile, with positive momentum difficult to sustain.
"It seems as if every minor rally we get, gets sold into, a trend that has been both consistent and concerning," said Christian Wagner, chief executive officer at Longview Capital Management in Wilmington, Delaware. "This could be the new normal until the fiscal cliff gets resolved, and that will make for a difficult environment."
Stocks showed a muted reaction to a dip in retail sales for October. Analysts had expected sales to fall due to the storm that hit the U.S. Northeast. Producer prices fell 0.2 percent in October, compared with an expectation for a 0.2 percent rise.
Dow component Cisco Systems Inc reported first-quarter earnings and revenue late Tuesday that beat expectations.
Cisco, viewed as a harbinger for spending on information technology because of its global reach and customers across all sectors, could lend support to the tech sector.
Technology shares have dropped almost 10 percent over the past two months, dragged down by earnings disappointments from Google and others. Tech was the worst performing sector on Tuesday.
"For Cisco to beat expectations in an environment like this is great and speaks to the solid management at the company," Wagner said. "Hopefully this will do something for the tech sector, which has been so hurt by Apple lately."
Apple, the most valuable U.S. company, has tumbled in recent months by 20 percent from its peak.
Reuters contributed to this report.