Major indexes moved between small gains and losses for much of the day Tuesday, then drifted steadily lower in the last hour of trading.
Traders were discouraged by a surprisingly large drop in consumer confidence in February.
The worst drops were in areas affected by the extreme cold weather and storms of the past few weeks.
The Standard-and-Poor's 500 index declined two points, or 0.1 percent, to close at 1,845.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 27 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,179.
The Nasdaq composite fell five points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,287.
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