NEW YORK - Investors dumped high-flying technology and biotech companies and sent the stock market down for a third straight day Wednesday.

Major indexes drifted lower in early trading, following news that orders for long-lasting U.S. goods sank last month. The selling gathered strength in the afternoon, with companies such as Avago Technologies and Skyworks Solutions losing the most.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 30.45 points, or 1.5 percent, to 2,061.05. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 292.60 points, or 1.6 percent, to 17,718.54, while the Nasdaq composite fell 118.21 points, or 2.4 percent, to 4,876.52.

It was the worst day for stocks since March 10, when speculation over the Federal Reserve's plans to raise interest rates helped knock the S&P 500 down 1.7 percent.

Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank, said he thought it's going to be tough for the market to sustain a strong run higher. Major indexes still trade near record highs reached at the start of the month, even though analysts expect earnings to shrink in the first half of the year. That makes the typical stock look pricey.

"We're going to have a difficult time continuing to make new highs if the underlying economy isn't following the direction of the market," he said. "At some point we're going to hit the intersection of reality and expectations."

Before the market opened Wednesday, the Commerce Department reported that orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods fell in February for the third time in four months. Demand for commercial aircraft, cars, and machinery waned.

"You can put this durables report into your Surprise Index as it missed market expectations," said Christopher Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank, in a note to clients. "But more importantly it is another piece of data that shows the real GDP economy is running 2 percent and not 3 percent."

Major indexes closed with losses across Europe. Germany's DAX dropped 1.2 percent and France's CAC 40 lost 1.3 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 sank 0.4 percent.

U.S. government bond prices fell, pushing the yield on the 10-year Treasury note up to 1.93 percent.

In the commodity markets, gold rose $5.60 to settle at $1,197 an ounce and silver inched up 2 cents to $17 an ounce. Copper slipped a penny to $2.79 a pound.

The price of U.S. crude rose amid concerns of spreading turmoil in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia reportedly began massing troops near its border with strife-torn Yemen.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.70 to close at $49.21 a barrel in New York.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose $1.37 a barrel to close at $56.48 a barrel in London.

In other trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, natural gas fell 6.3 cents to close at $2.723 per 1,000 cubic feet.