Stocks fell Wednesday with the Standard & Poor's 500 index posting its biggest decline in three weeks, after minutes from the latest U.S. Federal Reserve meeting showed some officials were open to tapering large-scale asset purchases as early as June.
Trading was volatile -- the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P index both rose more than 1 percent during the morning, but fell more than 1 percent in the afternoon.
The minutes followed comments from Chairman Ben Bernanke, who said the Fed could decide to scale back the pace of bond purchases at one of the "next few meetings" if the economic recovery looked set to maintain forward momentum.
The comments were a blow to a market that had accelerated after Bernanke said the central bank needed to see further signs of traction in the economy before it tapered stimulus.
"This is a very sensitive market and particularly sensitive to any notion that tapering will come too soon," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial in New York.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 80.41 points at 15,307.17. The S&P 500 was down 0.83 percent at 1,655.35. The Nasdaq composite index was down 1.11 percent at 3,463.30.