The Standard & Poor's 500 Index retreated from a five-year high as disappointing US housing numbers failed to offer confidence.
In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.06 per cent, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 0.42 per cent, while the Nasdaq Composite Index shed 0.55 per cent. The S&P 500 yesterday closed at 1,530.94 the highest in five years and within 35 points of its all-time record high.
"The market seems very tired and listless, and investors are prone to take profits now as they wait for the music to stop," Matt McCormick, money manager at Bahl & Gaynor in Cincinnati, told Reuters.
Economic reports released today provided a mixed picture.
Total housing starts fell to an 890,000 rate last month, which was lower than forecast, even as builders broke ground on 613,000 houses at an annualised rate in January, the most since July 2008.
The data follows yesterday's surprise slide in US home builder confidence this month.
Separately, the producer-price index rose 0.2 per cent in January, after declining 0.3 per cent in December.
Minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee's January meeting are due later today.
Minutes from the Bank of England's most recent meeting, released earlier today, helped bolster the FTSE 100 index up 0.3 per cent as they showed a growing bias towards expanding stimulus measures.
Governor Mervyn King was among the three members of the nine-member committee who voted in favour of boosting the central bank's current asset purchase program by 25 billion pounds to 400 billion pounds.
"A case could ... be made for undertaking additional asset purchases at this meeting," according to the minutes of the meeting held on February 6 and 7. "[T]he degree of slack in the economy, and the likely positive response of supply capacity to increased demand, meant that higher output growth would not necessarily lead to any material additional inflationary pressure."
Europe's Stoxx 600 Index ended the day with a 0.3 per cent drop from the previous close. In Germany, the DAX weakened 0.3 per cent and in France, the CAC 40 lost 0.7 per cent.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the value of the euro. The common currency, last trading at US$1.3375, has strengthened more than 10 per cent in the past seven months.
"We have to say that euro exchange rates between US$1.30 and US$1.40 are part of the normality of the history of the euro," she told an event marking 50 years of the German government's council of economic advisers, according to Bloomberg.
All is not well across Europe though. EU member Cyprus is at risk of defaulting, Standard & Poor's today warned, an event that could renew sovereign debt risks. And in Greece, thousands of workers took to the streets to protest yet again against the government's continuing austerity measures.