Minutes from last month's US Federal Reserve meeting quashed hopes for a fresh liquidity boost from monetary policy makers, lowering the appeal of equities and bonds alike.
"A couple of members indicated that the initiation of additional stimulus could become necessary if the economy lost momentum or if inflation seemed likely to remain below its mandate consistent rate of 2 per cent over the medium run," the FOMC minutes from the March 13 meeting showed as they were released today.
That diminished investors' hopes the Fed might add more stimulus measures to their promise of keeping interest rates at current lows until late 2014.
In early afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.82 per cent, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index shed 0.81 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite Index fell 0.51 per cent.
"No more of that artificial sweetener that the markets have become so accustomed to getting a regular dose of," Peter Kenny, managing director of Knight Capital in Jersey City, New Jersey, told Reuters. "At this stage of the game, people realise the markets are going to have to do the work now."
US Treasuries also declined, pushing the yield on the benchmark 10-year note six basis points higher to 2.25 per cent at 2.13pm New York time, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader prices. It earlier fell as much as three basis points.
"The market was looking for QE3," William Larkin, a fixed-income money manager at Cabot Money Management in Salem, Massachusetts, told Bloomberg. "They are saying that the recovery is on track. They are moving to more neutral, from more dovish. The market is going to be supersensitive to Fed policy because a lot of people believe the Fed is behind the curve."
Data released today included new orders for manufactured goods, which advanced 1.3 per cent in February, short of the 1.5 per cent advance forecast in Reuters and Bloomberg surveys.
A separate report showed that US car sales climbed more than 15 per cent in March.
"People are going back to work," Ford Motor economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick told Reuters. "And the vehicle stock ... is ripe for replacement."
Sales for General Motors, however, rose only 12 per cent in March, sending the stock 3.8 per cent lower.
Shares of Apple received a boost as two analysts forecast the stock will hit US$1,000. It rose as high as US$632.21 earlier today.
In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index ended the session with a 1.1 per cent drop for the day. Spain's debt outlook continues to damp enthusiasm that the EU's sovereign debt crisis has been checked.