A September rally faltered on the stock market Tuesday as worries returned about Europe's economy.
The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 index both closed with slight losses, breaking a four-day winning streak. Stocks are still up strongly this September, a historically weak month for the market.
Stocks had edged higher for much of the day following positive reports on U.S. retail sales and business inventories, but retreated in the final 10 minutes of trading as investors' enthusiasm waned.
Disappointing news from overseas hung over the market all day. European markets struggled to end barely higher after reports that German investor confidence fell sharply in September and industrial production unexpectedly stagnated during July in the countries that use the euro. Stocks in Tokyo also fell after the yen touched another 15-year high against the dollar, which is bad news for Japanese exporters.
In other signs that investors remain cautious, gold climbed to another record and Treasury prices rose, sending interest rates lower.
The Dow fell 17.64, or 0.2 percent, to close at 10,526.49 and the S&P 500 lost 0.8 point, or 0.1 percent, to end at 1,121.10.
The Nasdaq edged up 4.06, or 0.2 percent, at 2,289.77.
Signs of modest growth have been enough to get traders to put more money into stocks in September and shake off malaise about the economy that dogged the market for most of August.
However analysts caution that the gains have come amid very light volume, a sign that many investors aren't participating in the market and may still be skeptical about how well the economy is doing.
The losses Tuesday for the Dow and S&P 500 were only the second so far this month. September has historically been a weak month for stocks but this year has been an exception. Even after Tuesday's losses the Dow is still up 5.1 percent in September, the S&P 500 6.8 percent.
The Commerce Department said Tuesday that retail sales rose in August at their fastest pace in five months and slightly beat forecasts. The modestly higher growth is in line with economic reports over the past two weeks indicating that the economy continues to expand, though at a sluggish pace.
Retailers including Macy's Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. rose after the retail sales report. Electronics retailer Best Buy Co. also jumped after the company reported income that easily topped forecasts and raised its full-year outlook.
The primary question investors are still struggling with is, "does the economy just muddle along?" asked Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at RDM Financial Group. He predicted the economy is more likely to continue to grow slowly than to fall back into recession.
In another encouraging sign on the economy, business inventories jumped in July by their largest amount in two years and business sales rebounded after two months of declines. The upturn followed months of weak sales as people remain worried about keeping their jobs.
Falling stocks slightly outpaced gaining ones on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume was 923 million shares.