NEW YORK: Stocks fell in choppy trade on Wednesday, putting the S&P 500 on track for its fourth consecutive decline as concerns about the euro zone continue to be at the forefront of investors' focus.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attempted to quell some fears by saying the euro zone was committed to keeping Greece in the currency union, but news the European Central Bank had stopped providing liquidity to some Greek banks as recapitalization wasn't in place pushed markets lower.
Investors failed to be enticed by the minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve's most recent meeting, in which policymakers kept alive the possibility of a fresh round of monetary stimulus on downside risks to a moderately expanding economy.
Worries about Greece's political and financial future, along with political upheaval in the broader euro zone, have driven equity losses in recent weeks, sending the benchmark S&P index down 5.6 percent since the end of March.
Opinion polls in Greece show leftists opposed to the terms of the international bailout for the country would likely win a new election set for June 17. Greeks, afraid of the devaluation that would follow an exit from the euro, withdrew at least 700 million euros from their banks on Monday.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI gained 4.35 points, or 0.03 percent, to 12,636.35. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX shed 2.02 points, or 0.15 percent, to 1,328.64. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC dropped 14.90 points, or 0.51 percent, to 2,878.86.
Industrial shares .GSPI rose 0.2 percent after Positive U.S. housing and industrial production data. U.S. output rose in April at its fastest pace in over a year. A separate report showed a rebound in groundbreaking for U.S. homes in April, suggesting the housing market recovery was gaining.
General Electric Co (GE.N) gained 4 percent to $19.14, reversing earlier gains on news its finance arms won regulatory approval to resume returning some of its profit to the parent company. Such a move that could clear the way for GE to accelerate stock buybacks and raise its shareholder dividend.
GE Capital plans to pay a special $4.5 billion dividend to GE, the biggest U.S. conglomerate, later this year.
J.C. Penney (JCP.N) shares plunged 17.7 percent to $37.41, its biggest one-day percentage drop since 1987, a day after the department store owner scrapped its dividend and showed its effort to remake itself as an affordable fashion-oriented retail chain took a much bigger-than-expected toll on sales in the first quarter.
In contrast, Target Corp (TGT.N) advanced 0.6 percent to $55.41 after the discount retailer raised its full-year profit view.
Facebook Inc (FB.O) boosted the size of its initial public offering by 25 percent and could raise as much as $16 billion as strong investor demand for the No. 1 social network trumps debate about the company's long-term potential to make money. (Reuters)