Investors will turn to companies' financial results for clues on the economy's performance, as Alcoa on Tuesday became the first S&P 500 company to report earnings whose fiscal year follows the calendar. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. will also report this week.
The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, the gauge of S&P 500 options prices known as the VIX, fell 3.6 percent to 19.60 after closing Tuesday at the highest level since Dec. 28.
Investors' appetite for risk has diminished this week. The Nasdaq Internet index, which had risen 52 percent this year through Oct. 4, lost 0.7 percent Wednesday, extending its three-day slide to 6.6 percent. The gauge on Tuesday fell the most in almost two years. Netflix, an online subscription-streaming service that's is still more than three times higher than where it started 2013, dropped 4.6 percent to $288.43, the lowest since Aug. 30.
"Owners of star performers may well head to the exit doors to preserve gains," Michael Purves, head of derivatives research at Weeden & Co., wrote in a note to clients today. "This theme may extend to the broader market itself. Fear momentum takes time to start, but these can be early indications that a fear snowball may well be in the making."
Six of 10 main S&P 500 groups advanced Wednesday. Phone stocks rose 1.3 percent for the biggest gain in a month. Makers of consumer-discretionary products dropped 0.4 percent to lead declines.
AT&T Inc. rallied 1.9 percent, the most in the Dow, to $33.75. The largest U.S. phone company is near an agreement to sell its wireless towers to Crown Castle International, people familiar with the matter said. People with knowledge of the talks said in September the assets could fetch $5 billion.
Alcoa climbed 2 percent to $8.10. The aluminum producer reported better-than-forecast quarterly earnings after its smelting business returned to profitability and results improved at a unit that makes auto and aerospace parts.