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Private employers added 119,000 jobs in April, well below economists' expectations, and a separate report showed the manufacturing sector expanded only modestly in April.
Adding to concerns, growth in China's factory sector unexpectedly slowed last month as new export orders fell, raising fresh doubts about the world's second-largest economy after a disappointing first quarter.
Materials and energy stocks led declines as expectations of slower growth sent prices of basic materials lower. An index of commodities (.TRJCRB) fell 1.5 percent while the S&P energy index (.SPNY) slid 1.2 percent and the S&P materials index (.SPLRCM) lost 1.2 percent. Copper prices fell 3.7 percent, the most in a day since early April 2012.
"There is concern in the market because numbers are coming in a little bit soft in several areas," said Terry Morris, senior equity manager of National Penn Investors Trust Company in Reading, Pennsylvania.
The S&P 500 has recently ended sessions much stronger than its early lows as traders buy equities on signs of weakness.
"The trend is higher, and investors want to buy on dips," Morris said. "Stocks still are attractive relative to other asset classes."
Disappointing results from companies, including MasterCard (MA.N) and Merck (MRK.N), were also weighing on the market.
Of the 342 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings so far this season, 68.7 percent have beaten expectations and 43.2 percent have reported revenue above forecasts. Over the past four quarters, 67 percent have beaten earnings and 52 percent have beaten revenue expectations.
The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) fell 93.93 points or 0.6 percent, to 14,745.87. The S&P 500 (.SPX) lost 10.16 points or 0.6 percent, to 1,587.42. The Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) dropped 24.23 points or 0.7 percent, to 3,304.56.
April marked the S&P 500's sixth consecutive month of gains. On Tuesday, the benchmark index closed at a record high.
The S&P 500 is up 11.3 percent so far this year.
The Federal Reserve is scheduled to issue a statement at 2 p.m. (1800 GMT) after its two-day meeting on monetary policy. The U.S. central bank is expected to stay on its stimulus course.
CVS Caremark (CVS.N) shares hit a fresh record high after the pharmacy health care provider posted higher-than-expected earnings helped by more profitable generic drugs and a severe cold season that boosted sales at its drugstores. Shares rose 1.2 percent to $58.87.
MasterCard Inc (MA.N) shares dropped 2.8 percent to $537.59 after the world's second-largest credit and debit card network reported revenue fell short of the average analyst estimate.
Merck & Co (MRK.N) reported lower-than-expected first- quarter sales as generic competition hurt demand and a stronger dollar hit overseas sales. The stock, a Dow component, was down 2.4 percent at $45.86.
Shares of wireless carrier T-Mobile US (TMUS.N) rose 6.9 percent to $16.40 in its debut on the New York Stock Exchange. The company was created by the merger of MetroPCS Communications and Deutsche Telekom AG's
(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Jan Paschal)