NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Stocks fell shortly after the open Wednesday on confusion over how to read an unexpected slide in durable goods.
Durable goods orders in the U.S. slipped 1.4% to $231.3 billion in February, an unexpected drop compared to estimates of a 0.4% increase. In January, durable goods increased 2%.
On the one hand, the U.S. dollar fell further from 12-year highs as Wall Street was reading the tepid growth as a means to give pause to the Federal Reserve's rate hike plans. On the other, slowing domestic growth would hinder companies' earnings potential at a time when a stronger U.S. dollar already was undercutting profits.
"The tone of this report was weak, and it adds to a wide array of economic indicators have been pointing to a softening in domestic growth momentum," said TD Securities' Millan Mulraine. "We continue to highlight the downside risks to our Q1 GDP growth forecast of 1.5% q/q, with the risks that growth could slow to a crawl as the recovery appears to have gotten stuck in another weather-induced soft patch."
The S&P 500 dropped 0.12%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.32%, and the Nasdaq slid 0.56%. Stocks slumped on Tuesday.
Oil prices popped as the U.S. dollar fell against the euro, Aussie dollar and Japanese yen. West Texas Intermediate crude was up 1.2% to $48.10 a share. Wall Street awaits the Energy Information Administration's weekly report on U.S. crude stockpiles midmorning.
Kraft (KRFT) shares were keeping markets active on Wednesday after the company announced plans to merge with privately held Heinz to create Kraft Heinz Co. Kraft shares surged more than 32%.
Heinz, owned by private-equity firm 3G Capital and Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) - Get Report, will hold a 51% stake in the new company. The combined companies will form the third-largest food and beverage company in North America.
In more deals news, computer imaging company Lexmark (LXK) agreed to buy software developer Kofax (KFX) for about $1 billion, or $11 a share. Lexmark shares popped 6.9% and Kofax rocketed 45.7% higher.
There is more uncertainty for Europe on reports Greece will run out of money by April 20, according to Reuters. The unofficial deadline puts even more pressure on Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to resolve discussions with European Union creditors sooner rather than later. This week Tsipras met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and agreed to present a comprehensive list of reforms by Monday.
Separately, German business confidence hit its highest level since July 2014, according to the Ifo Institute's indicator of business climate. The measure rose to 107.9 in March, its fifth straight increase and above economists' estimates of 107.3.
European markets were lower, though. Germany's DAX fell 0.43%, France's CAC 40 slid 0.8%, and the FTSE 100 in London fell 0.04%.
Pharmaceuticals company Merck (MRK) - Get Report added nearly 2% after boosting its buyback authorization to $11.7 billion from $10 billion. Last year, the company returned $13 billion to its shareholders.