A mixed report about the housing market and unrest in Europe on Wednesday extended to five days the longest losing streak for the Standard & Poor's 500 index since mid-July. Other risky assets, like European stocks and oil, fell more sharply.
The median price of new homes sold in August rose by a record amount, while sales of new homes dipped slightly.
Stronger data on the U.S. housing market have insulated stocks in recent weeks from a slackening global economy. Stocks' other main source of support has been the Federal Reserve's program to boost the economy by pumping money in. That idea lost some luster Tuesday after a key Fed official said he doubted it will do much good.
"There was some optimism coming into the market, and that's usually when you're most vulnerable to sell-offs when there are negative headlines" like the Fed official's comments, unrest in Europe and weaker data about the U.S. economy, said Todd Salamone, director of research at Schaeffer's Investment Research.
The dip in home sales hurt home builder stocks.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 44.04 points to 13,413.51. The S&P 500 index fell 0.57 percent to 1,433.32. The Nasdaq composite average fell 0.77 percent to 3,093.70.