Wall Street moved lower, though it remained on track to post an advance for the first quarter of 2015, bolstered by a US economy that by and large continues to accelerate.

Indeed, the strength of the US economy warrants higher interest rates as early as June, President Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Jeffrey Lacker said in a speech on Tuesday.

"Given the improvements in the labour market and other indicators, June will likely be an appropriate time to raise the federal funds rate target," Lacker said.

This week offers three key jobs reports including the government's monthly nonfarm payrolls on Friday.


While the outlook is bright, "the economy still faces some challenges, including a sluggish housing market, potentially weaker exports and declines in government spending," Lacker said.

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In afternoon trading on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 0.6 per cent, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 0.4 per cent, while the Nasdaq Composite Index retreated 0.5 per cent.

The Dow is on track to post a 0.9 per cent increase for the past three months, with a 1.4 per cent gain for the S&P and 4.3 per cent advance for the Nasdaq.

"The S&P 500 hasn't given us much this quarter because so much was already priced in," William Hobbs, head of equity strategy at Barclays' wealth-management unit in London, told Bloomberg. "That doesn't mean the S&P 500 won't manage to eke out a positive return in 2015, it just means that markets elsewhere will do better."

Declines in shares of Boeing and those of Caterpillar, each down 1.3 per cent recently, led the Dow lower.

The latest reports showed US consumer confidence climbed to the second-highest level since August 2007, while home prices in 20 US cities rose at an accelerated pace in the year ended in January. To be sure, growth is uneven with activity in the Chicago area contracting for a second straight month.

Rising confidence and home prices adds to the belief that the first-quarter slowdown will be temporary.

The Conference Board's consumer confidence rose, climbing to 101.3 in March, from an upwardly revised 98.8 in February.


"This month's increase was driven by an improved short-term outlook for both employment and income prospects; consumers were less upbeat about business conditions," Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas increased 4.6 per cent in January on a year-over-year basis, up from a 4.4 per cent gain in December.

"Rising confidence and home prices adds to the belief that the first-quarter slowdown will be temporary," Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania, told Reuters.

The Institute for Supply Management-Chicago's business barometer rose to 46.3 this month, up from 45.8 in February.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index finished the session down 0.6 per cent from the previous close. France's CAC 40 Index and Germany's DAX both declined 1 per cent, while the UK's FTSE 100 Index dropped 1.7 per cent.

In the first quarter of 2015, the FTSE 100 gained 4.4 per cent, while the DAX rallied 22 per cent.

But the euro recorded its worst quarter since the 19-nation shared currency was introduced in 1999, according to Bloomberg.