U.S. stocks declined in early trade on Tuesday as investors watched geopolitical developments in Japan and Middle East with caution while S&P cut its credit ratings for both Portugal and Greece.

The S&P 500 Index declined 2.73 points, or 0.21 percent, to trade at 1,307.48 at 9:55 a.m. EDT. The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 7.98 points, or 0.07 percent, to trade at 12,189.90. The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 0.08 percent.

Japan has gone into a state of maximum alert after plutonium was found in the soil around the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant and radioactive water leaked from a reactor in the plant. Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Tuesday the crisis scenario continues to be unpredictable around Fukushima and that the country was now in a state of maximum alert.

Credit rating agency Standard & Poor's cut its credit ratings for both Portugal and Greece. S&P lowered its rating on Portuguese debt by one notch to 'BBB-' and Greece's rating by two notches to 'BB-' from 'BB+'.

On the economic front, the U.S. Conference Board will release its consumer confidence index for the month of March at 10:00 a.m. EDT, which is expected to edge lower to 65.00 from 70.40in the previous month.

On the corporate front, shares of General Electric Co. (NYSE:GE) declined 0.66 percent after the company said it agreed to acquire 90 percent of Converteam, a maker of automation systems used in the oil and gas sector, for about $3.2 billion.

Lennar Corp. (NYSE:LEN) shares declined 0.81 percent to $19.60. The company reported first-quarter net income of $27.41 million or $0.14 per share compared to net loss of $6.52 million or $0.04 per share in the same quarter a year-ago.

U.S. stocks gave up modest gains and ended slightly lower on Monday as declines from consumer and technology companies’ shares weighed in the final hour of trading session.

Crude prices declined 0.11 percent to $103.87 a barrel as Libyan rebels announced resumption of oil exports from the sites controlled by them.

The euro declined 0.17 percent to 1.4063 against the dollar the yen fell 0.70 percent against the greenback.

European stock markets are currently trading lower with FTSE 100 down by 5.49 points, DAX30 down by 38.73 points and CAC 40 down by 10.21 points.