U.S. stocks were lower on Wednesday, with the Dow and S&P retreating further from recent records, after a softer-than-expected report on the labor market and ahead of data on the services sector.
The ADP National Employment Report showed private employers added 212,000 jobs in February, short of the 220,000 forecast, although January's reading was revised upward to 250,000 from the initial 213,000.
Shortly after the opening bell, two readings on the services sector are expected with the final February reading of financial data firm Markit's Purchasing Managers Index at 9:45 a.m.. The Institute for Supply Management's gauge on the services sector in February is scheduled for a 10 a.m. release.
Investors will deal with a flurry of economic data for the rest of the week, culminating with the Labor Department's February payrolls report, which will be used to help gauge the timing of an expected interest rate hike from the U.S. Federal Reserve.
"The U.S. economy is seeing varying degrees of improvement with employment, manufacturing, housing, sentiment all showing progress. Beyond today’s report, the near-term focus is on Friday’s employment report. That will be more telling," said Terry Sandven, senior equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis.
"Given the strength we’ve had in the equity markets since the beginning of February, we are transitioning into a sideways-trending market as investors digest the recent gains and look for greater clarity."
After a sluggish start to the year, equities charged higher in February, helping send both the Dow and S&P to record highs on Monday, and the Nasdaq hurdled the 5,000 level for the first time in 15 years. Major indexes had retreated in Tuesday's session on soft auto sales and weakness in technology shares.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 97.83 points, or 0.54 percent, to 18,105.54, the S&P 500 lost 11.73 points, or 0.56 percent, to 2,096.05 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 23.99 points, or 0.48 percent, to 4,955.91.
Bob Evans Farms said it was not currently looking at selling or spinning off its food-products business and was evaluating strategic options for all or part of its real-estate assets. Shares of the restaurant and packaged food company plunged 20.3 percent to $47.51.
Abercombie & Fitch slumped 7 percent to $22.32 after the teen apparel retailer said its quarterly profit fell by a third. But fellow apparel retailer American Eagle Outfitters jumped 8.3 percent to $16.05 after better-than-expected fourth quarter sales.
Alcoa fell 3.4 percent to $14.66 after Bank of America Merrill Lynch cut the stock to a "neutral" rating.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 2,000 to 614, for a 3.26-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,524 issues fell and 605 advanced, for a 2.52-to-1 ratio.
The S&P 500 was posting 2 new 52-week highs and 2 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 13 new highs and 18 new lows.