Stocks fell on Wednesday after Portugal's credit rating was downgraded on budget concerns, prompting investors to pull back after recent gains.

Markets took little direction after mixed economic reports, with data showing new home sales falling to a record low in February, while new orders for long-lasting manufactured goods rose for the third straight month in February and inventories posted their biggest gain since December 2008.

Portugal's downgrade jarred European markets as Greece's debt problems has dominated the spotlight. Shares in Europe were knocked lower and carried through to the United States.

Investors have to be aware they're going to keep getting reminded that there are some sovereign debt issues that could (have an) impact. It's not all rosy, said Kurt Brunner, portfolio manager at Swarthmore Group in Philadelphia.

The market's been pretty strong over the last couple weeks, so you're seeing a bit of a trade-off.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> slipped 15.04 points, or 0.14 percent, to 10,873.79. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was off 1.70 points, or 0.14 percent, to 1,172.47. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> lost 8.36 points, or 0.35 percent, to 2,406.88.

The Dow fared better than the other major indexes, boosted by Boeing Co , which rose 1 percent to $72.90 after a brokerage raised its rating to outperform from neutral.

Utilities shares sagged with Exelon Corp down 1.2 percent at $43.79 after Goldman Sachs cut its price target to $50 from $52. The brokerage cut its view on independent power producers and diversified utilities to neutral from attractive.

Stocks pushed to 18-month highs on Tuesday, with the Dow racking up a 10th day of gains out of the past 11 sessions. For the month so far, the broad S&P 500 is up about 6 percent.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)