NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The major U.S. equity averages finished lower Tuesday as investors piled out of the technology, energy and financial sectors in the final hour of trading.
It was a sour close to a topsy-turvy session. Stocks sank at the start of the day but rallied back into positive territory as strong earnings from Home Depot (HD - Get Report) stoked optimism about the housing market.
The tech sector was weak throughout the day and the selling accelerated into the close. The broad move lower came against the backdrop of ongoing investor worries about the eurozone's stability and the ability of the U.S. government to address the fiscal cliff by the end of the year.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost nearly 59 points, or 0.46%, to settle at 12,756. The blue-chip index, which ranged from 12,748-12,898 on the day, has now fallen in four of the past five sessions.Breadth turned negative within the Dow with losers ahead of winners, 24 to 6. The biggest percentage decliners were Caterpillar (CAT), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Intel (INTC), and Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report). Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) shares finished off 3.3% following news that Steven Sinofsky, formerly president of Windows and Windows Live, has left the software giant. The company didn't provide a reason for Sinofsky's surprise departure, which comes just weeks after Microsoft launched Windows 8. Cisco (CSCO) shares finished down incrementally ahead of the networking giant's fiscal first-quarter report. The stock was surging nearly 7% in extended trading after the company beat Wall Street's expectations on both the top and bottom lines. The biggest gainers within the Dow were du Pont (DD), Home Depot, and Walt Disney (DIS). Home Depot shares popped 3.6% after the company posted third-quarter results that beat Wall Street forecasts and hiked its full-year guidance as the home-improvement retailer got a boost from the gradually improving U.S. housing market conditions. The Atlanta-based company also raised its full-year outlook to sales growth of 5.2% and earnings of $3.03 a share after posting quarterly earnings of 74 cents a share on revenue of $18.13 billion, versus the average analyst expectation of earnings of 70 cents a share on revenue of $17.92 billion.