Stocks drifted down in volatile trading on Wednesday on weak housing data, as investors scoured the minutes of the Federal Reserve's last meeting for signs of future monetary policy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed unofficially down 89 points, with the S&P 500 off 12 points and the Nasdaq snapping an eight-day winning streak to lose 34 points.
According to the minutes of the Fed's January meeting, officials weighed whether it might be time to drop the notion that a 6.5 percent unemployment rate would be enough to consider raising rates. The Fed Open Market Committee voted at the meeting to reduce the pace of its monthly bond-buying program by another $10 billion to $65 billion a month. The stimulus program had buoyed markets for several months.
Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said housing starts sank 16 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 880,000 units in January. The rate was the lowest since September. It was also the largest percentage drop in three years.
Separately, U.S. producer prices rose for a second straight month in January, pushed up by an increase in the cost of goods, but there was little sign of a broad pick-up in inflation pressures at the factory gate.