In U.S. economic news, manufacturing activity dropped for the third straight month. Construction spending also slowed. The big three automakers - General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler - all turned in better-than-expected monthly sales. Investors were waiting for the important monthly jobs report that will be released Friday.
In international economic news, Moody's warned that the European Union's Aaa credit rating was at risk. The ratings agency revised its outlook on the EU to "negative" from "stable." Chinese manufacturing contracted for the first time in nine months, which will add pressure on Chinese government authorities to take steps to reverse the slowdown.
In company news, shares of Netflix tumbled almost 10 percent after Amazon.com announced a licensing deal with the television channel Epix to provide streaming movies. Facebook's stock fell 2 percent to below $18 a share, another new low for the social network. Apple announced a September 12 event where it is expected to launch a new iPhone, which pushed the Nasdaq into positive territory.
The dollar gained ground against the euro, the pound, and the yen. Light sweet crude oil for October delivery lost $1.17 to $95.30 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold futures added $8.40 to $1,696.00 an ounce.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 54.9, or 0.42 percent, to 13,035.94. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 1.64, or 0.12 percent, to 1,404.94. The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index gained 8.10, or 0.26 percent, to 3,075.06.