Stocks slipped in light volume on Wednesday as investors were cautious after the S&P 500 index briefly hit its highest intraday level since November 2007.
The Dow was weighed down by declines in consumer stocks McDonald's and Coca-Cola , both down more than 1 percent. Coke's smaller competitor, Dr Pepper Snapple , fell 6.5 percent after it forecast profit for the current year below analysts' estimates.
But the S&P 500's fall was limited by Comcast Corp , which hit its highest since 1999 after it said it will buy the part of NBCUniversal it doesn't already own for $16.7 billion from General Electric . GE shares gained 3.3 percent to $23.32, making it the largest gainer in the Dow. Comcast rose 3.1 percent to $40.15.
The S&P 500 is up 6.4 percent so far this year, partly due to stronger than expected corporate earnings and a better economic outlook. The Dow industrials is about 1 percent away from an all-time intraday high, reached in October 2007.
Volume has been weak in recent days with the S&P moving sideways near 1,518. The index is about 3 percent away from hitting a record high.
King Lip, chief investment officer at Baker Avenue Asset Management in San Francisco, said the fact that there aren't many sellers after a consistent string of gains is positive and shows the uptrend is intact.
"Last year we had double-digit returns in the first quarter. It's fairly possible we can move higher from here," he said.
The S&P gained 12 percent in the first three months of 2012.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> fell 71.72 points or 0.51 percent, to 13,946.98, the S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 3.3 points or 0.22 percent, to 1,516.13 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 1.08 points or 0.03 percent, to 3,187.58.
Deere & Co , the world's largest farm equipment maker, forecast a modest increase in sales this year despite the prospect of the biggest corn crop in U.S. history, falling short of analysts' expectations and sending its shares down 3.5 percent.
According to the latest Thomson Reuters data, of the 353 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results, 70.3 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.
Investors shrugged off the latest economic data, which showed that retail sales rose just 0.1 percent, as expected, in January as tax increases and higher gasoline prices restrained spending.
(Editing by Kenneth Barry and Bernadette Baum)