SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. stocks fell Thursday as investors sold off cyclical stocks such as energy and waited for fresh reasons to buy after a heady start to the year.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 42.47 points, or 0.3 percent, to 13,944.05.
The S&P 500 slipped 2.73 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,509.39. Before a recent retreat, the S&P 500 had been up more than 6 percent for the year.
The Nasdaq composite index fell 3.34 points, or 0.1 percent, to 3,165.13.
The dip in Thursday’s stock market is likely profit-taking and not connected to any one thing as investors wait for a pullback to jump on buying opportunities, said Scott Wren, senior equity strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors.
“I don’t think there’s too much going on in terms of drivers; it’s more just trading action,” said Wren. In fact, Wren said the market is more likely “to grind a little higher” in the short term, expecting the eventual selloff to come at a higher level.
The European Central Bank left interest rates unchanged. ECB President Mario Draghi said in a news conference the bank’s accommodative monetary-policy stance should support growth, but that economic-recovery risks are skewed to the downside.
Given Draghi’s recent comments about “positive contagion” in the eurozone, markets were not prepared for his more pessimistic tone Thursday, said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott. Because of that, and because there’s so much buying power already baked into the stock market, economic activity needs to catch up to prices, he said.
“The general feeling over last few trading sessions is that the market is tired, not because of selling, but an exhaustion of buying,” Luschini said.
Despite the bumps in the markets this week, Stephen Pope, managing partner at Spotlight Ideas, said he doesn’t see any big panic button to press unless the Dow drops past the 13,500 level and the S&P 500 index drops to 1,445. “We’ve got plenty of fat on the bone here; there will be retracement, days of correction,” he said. “The downside in these price movements are buying opportunities.”
In the U.S., retailers reported same-store sales for January, with Macy’s Inc. reporting same-store-sales growth well above expectations.
Hedge-fund manager David Einhorn said he opposes a proposal by technology giant Apple Inc. to eliminate preferred stock. Einhorn also said his fund is long in Apple shares and the iPad maker is misvalued by the market.
After trading up slightly for most of the day, shares of Apple jumped to close up nearly 3 percent after the iPhone maker said it would evaluate Greenlight’s proposal.
In other corporate news, Sprint Nextel Corp. said its fourth-quarter loss widened but its revenue exceeded forecasts. Shares of the wireless carrier slipped 0.5 percent.
Jobless claims slipped to an adjusted 366,000 for the week and U.S. productivity declined by 2 percent in the fourth quarter, according to the Labor Department.