NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Stocks moved off session lows by mid-afternoon Tuesday, buoyed by a rally in oil prices and its boost to the energy sector. Crude oil climbed higher as Israel's warnings to the U.S. on an Iranian nuclear deal were seen as potentially disruptive to the oil-heavy Middle East.
The S&P 500 was down 0.56% on Tuesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.5%, and the Nasdaq fell 0.67%. The Volatility IndexI:VIX spiked 6.1% to 13.84.
A day earlier, the S&P 500 and Dow nabbed fresh all-time highs and the Nasdaq closed above 5,000 for only the third time in history and the first time in 15 years.
"I don't think there's anything serious behind the retreat," said Jeffrey Carbone, managing partner at Cornerstone Financial Partners, in a call. "It's maybe a little breather right now after hitting all-time highs in both the Dow and S&P 500."
West Texas Intermediate added 1.8% to $50.49 a barrel after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the U.S. against signing a nuclear deal with Iran, arguing it would not block the nation's way to a bomb but instead "paves its way to a bomb."
"Crude prices continue their Jekyll and Hyde movement, rallying today as talks continue with Iran and western leaders regarding their nuclear program," said Matt Smith, commodity analyst at Schneider Electric, in a note. "Tomorrow sees focus shift back onto rising production and rising inventories in the US with the weekly inventory report, but for today, crude pushes on."
The energy sector was mixed, though some key oil companies were gaining including BP (BP) - Get Report, Phillips 66 (PSX) - Get Report, ConocoPhillips (COP) - Get Report and Total (TOT) - Get Report. The Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE) - Get Report added 0.38%.
The Energy Information Administration will release its weekly inventory report on Wednesday. Economists expect an average 3.7 million barrels to be added to crude stockpiles for the week ended Feb. 27.
Ford (F) - Get Report tumbled after reporting that U.S. sales in February fell 1.9% from the year earlier. A 4% increase in truck sales wasn't enough to offset an 8.1% decline in car sales and a 2.3% drop in utilities sales. Shares were down 2.7%. General Motors (GM) - Get Report was slightly higher. While its U.S. auto sales climbed 4.2%, the increase at GM was less than an expected 5.9% gain.
Alibaba (BABA) - Get Report slipped more than 3% to $80.82, recovering from its lowest point since going public on U.S. markets last year. The Chinese e-commerce site tumbled after the Taiwanese government ordered the company to withdraw operations on accusations of investment violations. Taiwan said the fact the company registered as a Singaporean company, not from mainland China, violated local laws.
The health care sector was the laggard of the S&P 500. Pharmaceutical company Mylan (MYL) - Get Report was among the worst performers in the health industry, falling 4.3% after reporting fourth-quarter earnings of $1.05 a share, in line with analysts' estimates. Other health care stocks were lower including Celgene (CELG) - Get Report, Gilead Sciences (GILD) - Get Report and Pfizer (PFE) - Get Report. The Health Care SPDR ETF (XLV) - Get Report fell 1%.
Losses were broad-based across all sectors, including consumer discretionary, despite better-than-expected results from retailers AutoZone (AZO) - Get Report , Best Buy (BBY) - Get Report and Dick's Sporting Goods (DKS) - Get Report. AutoZone added 0.65% after reporting earnings of $6.51 a share, 13 cents better than expected. Quarterly sales jumped 7.5% to $2.14 billion, just above estimates.
Best Buy was up 1.6% as earnings beat estimates thanks to strong growth of more than 3% in its domestic segment. The retailer also announced a $1 billion buyback program to be carried out over the next three years. Dick's rose 1.1% after beating analysts' estimates on its top- and bottom-lines. Comparable-store sales climbed 3.4% in its fourth quarter.
Shares of General Electric (GE) - Get Report fell 1.2% following a Barclays analyst's suggestion that CEO Jeff Immelt may step down within the next year as investors seek change at the industrial giant, Bloomberg reported.
Citigroup (C) - Get Report was slightly higher after Springleaf Financial (LEAF) - Get Report agreed to purchase its OneMain Financial arm for $4.25 billion in an all-cash deal expected to close in the third quarter. Springleaf shares surged 27.5%.
Barclays (BCS) - Get Report reported better-than-expected profit in 2014, up 12% from a year earlier. However, shares slipped 2.7% after the company took an additional $1.2 billion charge tied to its currency-rigging probe.
Lumber Liquidators (LL) - Get Report rose 5.4% after Janney Capital Markets upgraded the stock to "buy" from "neutral." The stock fell more than 20% on Monday following a 60 Minutes report that raised health concerns about some of its laminate flooring products.
-- Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.