Away from stocks, the front-month September crude contract sank for a second session. Oil dropped $1.33 to $73.56 a barrel. Gasoline prices were lower by 5 cents at $2.05 a gallon.

"Because oil prices were down so much today, a lot of oil stocks were under pressure," said Mendelsohn. "There is no sector to pick up the slack today. Unless something causes the financial sector to bottom, I don't see any other sector big enough to pick up the slack and carry this market."

With the economic docket vacant, Treasury prices were little changed. The 10-year note tacked on 2/32 in price, yielding 4.95%, and the 30-year bond was flat, yielding 5.06%.

Overseas, stocks rose in Asia and declined in Europe. Tokyo's Nikkei added 0.2%, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng climbed 0.5%. London's FTSE shed 1.9%, and Frankfurt's DAX was off 1.7%.

Following Tuesday's close, Amazon.com ( AMZN) and homebuilder Centex ( CTX) will post quarterly results.

The earnings torrent will continue before the next open, when such names as Boeing ( BA), ConocoPhillips ( COP), Corning ( GLW), and WellPoint ( WLP) are due to report.

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