U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday as investors took a dim view of comments from the Federal Reserve chairman that although he still expects low interest rates for some time, the cheap funding that has underpinned a market rally since last March would end eventually.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said in prepared comments that a move to possibly raise the bank's discount rate should not be viewed as leading to monetary tightening. It was Bernanke's most detailed description to date of how the Fed aims to dismantle the extensive emergency supports it put in place to bolster the economy.
It tells you how fragile the market psychology is that he can talk about winding down and the market goes into sell-off mode even though it knows those measures won't last long beyond the crisis, said Joseph Battipaglia, market strategist at Stifel Nicolaus in Yardley, Pennsylvania.
Bernanke's comments lifted the U.S. dollar, which put pressure on commodity prices and resource shares. The S&P materials sector <.GSPM> led the way down, losing 0.9 percent, while Newmont Mining Corp
Low volume made the market more susceptible to large movements, with some players absent because of the heavy snowfall in the U.S. East Coast.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> slipped 39.98 points, or 0.40 percent, to 10,018.66. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> fell 5.20 points, or 0.49 percent, to 1,065.32. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was off 11.84 points, or 0.55 percent, to 2,139.03.
The trading focus was also on intensive talks being held by euro zone countries on a possible rescue for debt-laden Greece. However, European Union law offers no clear procedure for such a bailout, and investors scrutinized various comments and reports for details.
Shares of Sprint Nextel Corp
Walt Disney Co
(Additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Padraic Cassidy)