U.S. stocks tumbled in a broad sell-off on Wednesday, sending the benchmark S&P 500 lower for a fourth straight day, after weak data on new home sales heightened concerns about the pace of the economic recovery.

Financials, technology, materials and industrial sectors, which underpinned the market's advance from March, bore the brunt of the slide as investors reassessed their bets.

The housing data definitely created an additional leg down in the market, said Mike O'Rourke, chief market strategist at institutional brokerage firm BTIG in New York. A lot of people realize that we're correcting right now and are being cautious.

The Nasdaq also logged its fourth straight daily drop. Wednesday's sell-off marked the broader market's worst day of losses in nearly a month.

The S&P 500 is now up 54.1 percent from the 12-year closing low of March 9. At Wednesday's close, it showed a drop of 5.04 percent from its post-March closing peak reached a week ago on October 19.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> dropped 119.48 points, or 1.21 percent, to 9,762.69. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> fell 20.78 points, or 1.95 percent, to 1,042.63. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> slid 56.48 points, or 2.67 percent, to 2,059.61.

The CBOE Volatility Index <.VIX>, Wall Street's favorite fear gauge, ended up 12.5 percent, its biggest one-day percentage gain since August.

During the session, both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq broke below key technical levels as the sell-off accelerated. Both indexes closed below their 50-day moving average for the first time since July, a bearish technical signal.

Among financials, JPMorgan shares fell 2.8 percent to $42.68, American Express Co dropped 3.6 percent to $34.67, and the S&P financial index <.GSPF> shed 3.2 percent.

On the technology front, Apple Inc's slid 2.5 percent to $192.40 made the iPod maker the Nasdaq's top drag.

The Dow Jones U.S. home construction index <.DJUSHB> fell 5.5 percent -- its worst one-day percentage slide since May.

The S&P materials index <.GSPM> dropped 3.2 percent.

Among shares of natural resource companies, Dow component and aluminum company Alcoa Inc tumbled nearly 7 percent to $11.93, while another Dow stock, heavy equipment maker Caterpillar Inc , fell 4 percent to $54.43. Diversified manufacturer 3M Co shares dropped 2 percent to $74.46.

Sales of newly built single-family homes unexpectedly fell 3.6 percent last month, according to a Commerce Department report. Seperately, data from the Mortgage Bankers Association showed demand for mortgages has fallen for the past three weeks.

The housing data was an additional hurdle for a market already buffetted by uncertainty about the future of the government's $8,000 home buyer tax credit.

The tax credit for first-time home buyers would be extended until the end of April and expanded to cover repeat buyers under a deal reached by key senators, sources familiar with the plan said on Wednesday.

The housing data underscored the stickiness of the real estate downturn amid a tough job market, tighter lending and sliding home values.

Goldman Sachs cut its forecast for third-quarter gross domestic product, a gauge of all goods and services produced within the U.S. borders, to 2.7 percent from 3.0 percent.

The government will release its first estimate of third-quarter GDP on Thursday. GDP is expected to have grown at an annual rate of 3.3 percent in the third quarter, according to 77 analysts polled by Reuters.

(Editing by Jan Paschal)