Stocks took a break on Thursday from the breakneck rallies that have characterized trading since late last week.
Benchmark indexes spent much of the day lower with crude oil and earnings remaining a major driver of direction. The S&P 500 fell 0.47%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.25%, and the Nasdaq slid 1.03%.
"Markets took a little bit of a breather today," Tom Siomades, head of Hartford Funds Investment Consulting Group, told TheStreet. But he added that "people are still very cautious... They're picking up things that are at bargain prices now but I don't think it's an overall sign of relief at this point."
Stocks secured their first three-day winning streak of the year on Wednesday as concerns over oil, the U.S. economy and the Federal Reserve's rate-hike plans were all addressed in turn. The S&P 500 broke out of correction territory and is now down less than 10% from its 52-week high.But worries over crude oil resurfaced to erase a morning rally on Thursday after weekly inventories showed an increase of 2.1 million barrels last week. Analysts had expected the Energy Information Administration data to show a decline of 1.4 million barrels.
Commodities trading also was active on reports Saudi Arabia is "not prepared" to limit oil production, according to AFP. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries attempted this week to come to an agreement on a production freeze to stabilize oil prices. West Texas Intermediate crude oil climbed 1% to $30.96 a barrel, falling below $31.
The energy sector was one of the weaker performers on markets Thursday. Among major oilers, Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) , Chevron (CVX) , Schlumberger SLB, and China Petroleum (SNP) were all lower, while the Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE) slid 1%.