Stocks rebounded off their session lows but finished the day lower, with the Dow briefly turning positive as home builders rose sharply while Merck helped lead a rally in health care shares.
The Dow fell more than 100 points early in the session, turned it around later, but was never able to hold its ground as the index fell for the sixth consecutive day.
Investors continued to be in a largely sour mood, though, prodded even more so by minutes released Wednesday from the Federal Reserve's June meeting that showed central bank policy makers unwilling to enact fresh quantitative easing stimulus.
"The market has been pretty well in a swooning semi-tantrum since (Fed Chairman) Ben Bernanke and Co. didn't come forth in launching QE3," said John Stoltzfus, chief market strategist at Oppenheimer. "With the lows that we've been seeing on the 10-year Treasury, there's a certain absurdity" to buying bonds over stocks.
"People are beginning to think that maybe it's time to take some action," he added.
Though the Dow and S&P flirted with positive numbers, losers were ahead of gainers on the session, which featured light total volume of just over 3 billion shares changing hands.
Half of the 10 sectors on the S&P 500 were positive, with health care, consumer staples and utilities leading a rise in defensive categories, while financials and technology kept the index in the red.Page 1 of 4 | Next Page