Stocks edged lower on Wednesday after surging U.S. producer price and weak housing data, while investors were buffeted by Middle East political uncertainty and a nuclear crisis in Japan.

Producer prices advanced in February at their fastest pace in about 1-1/2 years, boosted by high food and energy prices, while U.S. housing starts posted their biggest decline in 27 years.

In Japan, workers withdrew briefly from a stricken nuclear power plant because of surging radiation levels and a helicopter failed to drop water on the most troubled reactor.

Forces in Bahrain, a neighbor of top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, launched a crackdown on protesters. The political upheaval sent Brent crude rising 1.8 percent to nearly $111 a barrel, rebounding from a three-week low.

There is a perfect storm of uncertainty right now in terms of global growth and markets are taking that into account, said Oliver Pursche, president at Gary Goldberg Financial Services in Suffern, New York.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> fell 59.08 points, or 0.50 percent, at 11,796.34. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> lost 3.87 points, or 0.30 percent, at 1,278.00. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> dipped 9.07 points, or 0.34 percent, at 2,658.26.

Housing shares fell after the weak housing starts data. PulteGroup Inc
fell 1.7 percent to $6.89. The Dow Jones housing index <.DJUSHB> dipped 1.7 percent.

JMP Securities downgraded Apple Inc to market perform from outperform, and the stock took off 1 percent to $342.56.

In other brokerage comments, Bernstein downgraded International Business Machines Corp to market perform from outperform, saying the stock is fairly valued at current levels. The shares fell 1.6 percent to $156.40.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)