U.S. stocks slipped late on Tuesday due to trepidation over churning political and regulatory developments, offsetting solid earnings and improved consumer confidence data.
Gains faded late as investors turned cautious before the Federal Reserve's policy announcement and President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Wednesday night.
The Fed's Open Market Committee began a two-day meeting on Tuesday against the backdrop of a Senate debate over Chairman Ben Bernanke's reconfirmation. The meeting is expected to yield few policy shifts, with a Fed statement on the economy and interest rates expected on Wednesday.
Most people expect the FOMC to leave rates unchanged. They are not expecting a big statement at this time just because Bernanke still hangs on the cliff, said Kenneth Polcari,
managing director of ICAP Equities in New York.
People are much more interested in what the president is going to say -- how his presentation is going to come across, does it look like he is changing the message, is he going to remain true to the values that he ran on, is he succumbing to more of a populist vote?
The Senate is expected to vote this week on confirmation of Bernanke for a second term as Fed chairman. Bernanke has been criticized for the Fed's handling of the financial crisis, but Senate leaders predict he will be confirmed.
U.S. stocks fell 5 percent in a three-day span to close out last week after the Obama administration proposed new restrictions on large banks.
After a lower open, stocks rose on data showing consumer confidence rose for a third straight month in January to its highest level since September 2008, easing concerns about individual spending.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> shed 2.57 points, or 0.03 percent, to 10,194.29. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> fell 4.61 points, or 0.42 percent, to 1,092.17. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> lost 7.07 points, or 0.32 percent, to 2,203.73.
After the closing bell, Yahoo Inc
Verizon Communications Inc
But a number of companies turned in positive report cards. Travelers
The iPhone maker provided the biggest lift to the Nasdaq, followed by Microsoft Corp
Volume was light on the New York Stock Exchange, with about 1.12 billion shares changing hands, below last year's estimated daily average of 2.18 billion. On the Nasdaq, about 2.4 billion shares traded, above last year's daily average of 1.63 billion.
Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a ratio of 5 to 3, while decliners outnumbered advancers on Nasdaq by a ratio of about 2 to 1.
(Editing by Kenneth Barry)