NEW YORK (AP) — Disappointing earnings from a handful of U.S. companies pushed the stock market to its biggest loss in five weeks.
Health care stocks had some of the biggest declines. Laboratory Corporation of America slumped after cutting its full-year earnings forecast. Quest Diagnostics, a major competitor, also dropped.
Joy Global, a maker of mining equipment, sank after reporting earnings that fell short of Wall Street forecasts.
The broader stock market also fell. The Standard & Poor's 500 index has fallen six out of eight days in December, leaving it down 1.3 percent for the month.
The market may be succumbing to "buyer's fatigue" after a big rally this year, said Chris Bertelsen, chief investment officer at Global Financial Private Capital. The S&P 500 has surged 25 percent so far in 2013, putting it on track for its biggest annual increase in a decade.
"Anybody who thinks that it's up forever is certainly a neophyte to this business," said Bertelsen.
Another sign that investors' optimism about stocks may be flagging was a sharp drop in the Russell 2000. The index of small-company stocks fell 1.6 percent Wednesday, the most in month. Still, this year's 30-percent gain in the Russell 2000 has outpaced other big indexes.
Investors also considered the impact of the latest budget deal in Washington, which will help lawmakers avoid the immediate threat of another government shutdown. The 16-day shutdown in October crimped economic growth and hurt consumer confidence.
In the long run, the deal should be good for the stock market. It will allow investors to focus on the economy and the outlook for corporations rather than politics, said Peter Sidoti, a former Wall Street analyst who now runs a company that focuses on analyzing small-company stocks.
"It just gets rid of the noise," said Sidoti, head of Sidoti & Co. "The less distractions that you have and the more that you have people focus on running their businesses, the better off we are."
The S&P 500 index fell 20.40 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,782.22. It was the biggest decline for the index since Nov. 7.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 129.60 points, or 0.8 percent, to 15,843.53. The Nasdaq composite fell 56.68 points, or 1.4 percent, to 4,003.81.