Cyclical sectors led stocks lower on Thursday, setting the S&P 500 up for its first negative week in six, after factory data showed a slowdown in both the euro zone and China.
The weak data is hardly a surprise for markets, as many analysts have already factored in a recession in the euro zone and early this month, China trimmed its 2012 growth target to an eight-year low of 7.5 percent.
However, investors were unnerved by the drop in new orders in both regions, which highlighted concerns that an unexpectedly severe downturn could hurt the global recovery.
The drop in demand fueled calls for the pullback in stocks after the S&P 500 scored 10 weeks of gains out of this year's 11 weeks so far. The benchmark index is still near four-year highs hit on Monday.
The advance we've had so far this year is not sustainable, and the market is taking a little breather, said Terry Morris, senior equity manager for National Penn Investors Trust Company in Reading, Pennsylvania.
The market could easily come down 3 to 5 percent and still be within the context of an improving economy and continue to work higher, he said.
FedEx shares dragged down the Dow Jones Transportation Average after the world's No. 2 package delivery company warned of a lower outlook, due in part to Europe's weak economy.
The S&P energy sector <.GSPE> fell 2.1 percent and the basic materials sector <.GSPM> dropped 1.6 percent.
U.S. stocks have risen sharply this year, due in part to a steady string of better-than-expected U.S. economic data. Next week, the S&P 500 could wrap up its best back-to-back quarters since mid-2009.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> fell 78.48 points, or 0.60 percent, to 13,046.14 at the close. The S&P 500 Index <.INX> dropped 10.11 points, or 0.72 percent, to 1,392.78. The Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> lost 12.00 points, or 0.39 percent, to 3,063.32.
It was the first close below 1,400 for the S&P 500 in six sessions.
About 6.3 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and Amex, compared with the current daily average for 2012 of about 6.86 billion shares.
China's manufacturing sector activity shrank in March for a fifth successive month, while German and French manufacturing suffered a sharp decline in March that even the most pessimistic economists failed to predict.
The number of Americans claiming new unemployment benefits dropped to a four-year low last week. A separate report showed the index of leading economic indicators, a gauge aimed at predicting future U.S. economic activity, rose sharply in February, pointing to a pickup in growth even as China and Europe retreat.
Blue-chip McDonald's Corp
An oil services index <.OSX> tumbled for a fourth day, down 6.6 percent for the week. The sub-sector's largest decliner was Nabors Industries
Among basic materials shares, U.S. Steel Corp
In contrast to the overall market's declines, Dollar General Corp
Shares of ExactTarget Inc
Almost three issues fell on the NYSE for every one that rose, while on the Nasdaq, decliners beat advancers by a ratio of about 11 to 5.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Jan Paschal)