NEW YORK - The guessing game over higher interest rates is making for a jerky stock market.
A day after their biggest gain in six weeks, U.S. indexes mostly fell Tuesday as oil continued to slide and investors fretted over when the Federal Reserve will raise a key borrowing rate. Low rates have helped stocks soar over the last six years. The Fed kicked off a two-day meeting Tuesday to discuss rates, and will release a policy statement Wednesday.
Losses were small, but spread across industries. Nine of the 10 sectors of the Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped, led by a 1.2 percent fall in raw-material companies.
Randall Warren, chief investment officer of Warren Financial Service, said he was not worried about higher rates, but is bracing for more price swings.
"The economy is stronger and can handle it, and people will realize that," he said. "But now, we're in the fear phase."
The S&P 500 fell 6.91 points, or 0.33 percent, to 2,074.28. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 128.34 points, or 0.71 percent, to 17,849.08. The Dow had jumped 228 the day before.
The Nasdaq composite edged up 7.93 points, or 0.16 percent, to 4,937.43.
Energy stocks sank as the price of oil slid for the sixth straight day to another six-year low. U.S. benchmark crude fell 42 cents to close at $43.46 a barrel in New York.
U.S. employers have added more than 200,000 jobs in each of the last 12 months, and the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.5 percent. That is the lowest rate in seven years. On the down side, a report Monday showed output at the nation's factories fell for a third straight month in February.
On Tuesday, the Commerce Department said construction of new homes plummeted 17 percent in February from the month before, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 897,000.
Bad winter weather in the Northeast and Midwest was mostly to blame. Home-builder stocks dropped on the news.
The euro strengthened to $1.0603 from $1.0578. The dollar was unchanged at 121.37 yen.
In oil markets, Brent crude for May delivery, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 43 cents to close at $53.51 in London. The Brent contract for April delivery expired Monday at $53.44 a barrel.
In other futures trading on the NYMEX, natural gas rose 13.9 cents to close at $2.855 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Precious and industrial metals futures fell. Gold lost $5 to $1,148.20 an ounce, silver fell four cents to $15.58 an ounce, and copper fell three cents to $2.63 a pound.