The Dow briefly turned positive and the S&P 500 trimmed losses as gains by companies which fare better in an uncertain economy offset disappointing data.

Defensive stocks lending support included Coca-Cola , up 1.62 percent and Merck & Co up 1.4 percent.

The Nasdaq remained in negative territory, but off its worst levels, following Research In Motion's lackluster results and outlook.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> dropped 7.78 points, or 0.08 percent, to 9,699.66. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> dropped 2.40 points, or 0.23 percent, to 1,048.38. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> dropped 9.98 points, or 0.47 percent, to 2,097.63.

(Reporting by Ellis Mnyandu; Editing by Kenneth Barry)