With Halloween still nearly three weeks away, investors weren't sure whether to try on their bull or their bear suit Tuesday. But the bearish costume was clearly more in favor by the close of trading, as inflation jitters caught up with the market, sending major stock proxies sharply lower.

Bulls briefly had the upper hand in morning trade, amid hope that earnings will provide a catalyst to sustain the bounce from five-month lows seen over the past two sessions.

These hopes may be validated Wednesday, as earnings from key tech leaders Motorola ( MOT) and Yahoo! ( YHOO) seemed to please investors after the close of trading.

Intel ( INTC), however, produced mixed results and lackluster sales guidance.

If there's any hope to be had for tech bulls, it might be that the Nasdaq Composite, while it fell 0.7% to 2056, did not lead the market lower Tuesday.

Instead, it was the S&P 500, weighed down by energy shares and homebuilding stocks, that led the downside. The broad index dropped 1% to 1178.14, finishing at its low of the session.

The energy sector fell along with the price of crude oil, which dropped $1.16 to $63.20 as Tropical Storm Wilma seemed to veer away from sensitive areas in the Gulf of Mexico. The Amex Oil Index lost 4% while the Philadelphia Stock Exchange Homebuilding Index fell 3.2%. Housing sector stocks were hurt by American Standard's ( ASD) disappointing results and some cautious comments by NVR ( NVR).

Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 67.84 points, or 0.61%, at 10,285.26, its session low and well off an intraday high of 10,285.26.

The blue-chip average had received early support after decent earnings from the likes of IBM ( IBM), Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ), and 3M ( MMM).

But those gains weren't enough to offset losses elsewhere, including a 4% decline in the shares of Exxon Mobil ( XOM).

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