U.S. stocks declined in early trade on Wednesday as mounting fears about Japan's escalating nuclear crisis and mixed economic data weighed on the sentiment.
The S&P 500 Index declined 5.46 points, or 0.43 percent, to trade at 1,275.96 at 9:40 am EDT. The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 68.69 points, or 0.58 percent, to trade at 11,786.73. The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 0.55 percent.
The nuclear crisis in earthquake-ravaged Japan has hit a new peak of worry – engineers are concerned that two more reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex may have become unstable. Plant operators were considering the removal of panels from units 5 and 6 reactor buildings to prevent a possible buildup of hydrogen.
On the economic front, the Producer Price Index (PPI) for finished goods rose a seasonally adjusted 1.6 percent in February, following advances of 0.8 percent in January and 0.9 percent in December. The index for finished goods less foods and energy rose 0.2 percent from a 0.5 percent gain in the previous month.
Meanwhile, construction of new homes, as well as new building permits, declined more than expected in February, indicating that the U.S. housing industry’s recovery is still weak, even as the rest of the economy improves.
The housing starts dropped 22.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 479,000 units in February, the biggest decline since March 1984 .Markets had expected the housing starts to rise to 580,000 units in February.
Also, new building permits, a measure of future construction, fell 8.2 percent to 517,000 in February against the revised figure of 563,000 in December. Economists had expected permits to increase slightly to 580,000 units in the month.
Among the Dow components, Boeing, Cisco, 3M and GE declined more than 2 percent, while IBM and Intel plunged more than 3 percent.
The euro declined 0.47 percent to 1.3932 against the dollar and the yen gained 0.09 percent against the greenback.
Crude oil futures advanced 1.29 percent to $98.43 a barrel ahead of inventory data and gold futures gained 0.5 percent.
European stock markets are currently trading mixed with FTSE 100 down by 29.71 points, DAX30 up by 22.93 points and CAC 40 down by 17.38 points.