Stocks were mostly flat on Wednesday after three days of declines, as investors digested disappointing reports on the labor market and factory orders that increased worry the rally may have run too far ahead of the economy.

The ADP survey of private-sector jobs is seen as a precursor to Friday's closely-watched monthly government figures as investors look for signs the S&P 500's 50-percent rally since early March may be stalling.

New orders received by U.S. factories rose a smaller-than-expected 1.3 percent in July, with a rise in aircraft orders countering sluggish demand for nondurable goods, government data showed.

You're getting a little bit more focused on the negative and not accentuating the positive that we're getting in these economic reports, said Scott Marcouiller, senior equity market strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors in St. Louis.

The market has fallen on better-than-expected news this week, prompting some to recall the adage that bull markets end on good news.

The bigger picture is, everyone knows we have an extended market. There's going to be pause out there somewhere, said Marcouiller

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> dropped 19.65 points, or 0.21 percent, to 9,290.95. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> lost 2.90 points, or 0.29 percent, to 995.14. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> fell 1.12 points, or 0.06 percent, to 1,967.77.

Financial stocks were weak again after falling sharply in the last few days. The KBW Bank index <.BKX> fell 1.2 percent. Citigroup Inc dropped 1.1 percent to $4.49.

U.S. private employers cut 298,000 jobs in August, the ADP and Macroeconomic Advisers said its National Employment Report, fewer than a revised 360,000 jobs lost in July, but more than the 250,000 mean forecast in a Reuters poll.

(Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by Padraic Cassidy)