Stocks fell on Wednesday after a surprising contraction in an index of Midwest business activity, but buying of technology bellwethers like Cisco Systems Inc at the end of a strong quarter limited losses.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> dropped 29.92 points, or 0.31 percent, to end unofficially at 9,712.28. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> slipped 3.53 points, or 0.33 percent, to finish unofficially at 1,057.08. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> shed 1.62 points, or 0.08 percent, to close unofficially at 2,122.42.

For the third quarter, the Dow rose 15 percent, the S&P 500 gained 15 percent and the Nasdaq climbed 15.7 percent. The Dow's performance marked its biggest quarterly gain since the fourth quarter of 1998.

For the month of September, the Dow rose 2.3 percent, the S&P 500 gained 3.6 percent and the Nasdaq climbed 5.6 percent. These gains ran counter to historic trends showing that September often is a miserable month for stocks.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)