The U.S. stocks fell on Tuesday for a second straight day as investors were expecting sluggish corporate growth for a new earnings season.
The main stock indices opened lower, as investors tried to find out how American companies fared in such a fragile economy from their latest earnings reports.
Corporate earnings are expected to be slightly better than the third quarter's lackluster results, and analysts' current estimates are down sharply from what they were in October. Quarterly earnings are expected to increase 2.8 percent, according to Thomson Reuters' data.
The fourth-quarter earnings season began with Dow component Alcoa after Tuesday's closing bell. Alcoa was flat in Tuesday's trading session.
Monsanto rose nearly 2.5 percent after the world's largest seed company reported Tuesday that its profit nearly tripled in the first fiscal quarter due to strong sales of its biotech corn seeds in Latin America. The agricultural giant earned 339 million U.S. dollars, or 63 cents per share, in the three months ending Nov. 30, beating market expectations.
On the economic front, the U.S. National Federation of Independent Business' small-business optimism index in December rose 0.5 point to 88, still the second lowest reading since March 2010, as owners expect business conditions to deteriorate over the next six months, according to data released Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Germany's exports fell 3.4 percent and industrial orders shrank by a more-than-expected 1.8 percent in November, reinforcing concerns that Europe's largest economy may have contracted in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to two separate reports released Tuesday.
The euro zone jobless rate rose to 11.8 percent in November, a new high, according to Eurostat, the statistical agency of the European Union.
The market was split whether the U.S. Federal Reserve would slow or halt its bond purchase program before the end of the year, after minutes from the Fed's December policy meeting released last week showed differences among Fed policymakers on the controversial issues.
Among key S&P 500 sectors, telecoms led the laggards.
Apple edged up 0.27 percent after the tech giant was reportedly planning on manufacturing low-cost iPhones for emerging markets in the second half of 2013.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 55.44 points, or 0.41 percent, to 13,328.85. The broader Stand & Poor's 500-stock Index slid 4.74 points, or 0.32 percent, to 1,457.15. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 7.01 points, or 0.23 percent, to 3, 091.81.