(By Balachander) U.S. stocks ended on a sharply lower note as investors weighed minutes from last month's Federal Reserve policy meeting and a mixed set of economic reports.
The S&P 500 Index shed 1.24 percent to end at 1,511.95. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.77 percent to finish at 13,927.54. The Nasdaq Composite Index retreated 1.53 percent to close at 3,164.41.
Most participants commented that the Committee's asset purchases had been effective in easing financial conditions and helping stimulate economic activity. However, many voiced concerns about potential costs and risks arising from further asset purchases, minutes of the Fed's January 29-30 policy-setting committee meeting showed.
Several participants emphasized that the Committee should be prepared to vary the pace of asset purchases, according to the minutes.
On the data front, the U.S. Labor Department said core producer price index advanced 0.2 percent last month, matching economists expectations. The headline index also rose 0.2 percent, versus estimate of an increase of 0.4 percent for January.
Another reported showed housing starts in the United States declined 8.5 percent to 890,000 for January, while permits for future building construction rose 1.8 percent to 925,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Economists' expected housing starts at 925,000 and building permits of 915,000.
Hot Stocks Of The Day: AAPL, CAT, ODP, OMX, DVN, ADI, GRMN, TOL, MDRX, NTSP, SODA, LZB
In corporate news, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) retreated 2.42 percent amid reports that major supplier Foxconn Technology halted recruitment across China.
Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) shed 2.49 percent after the construction and mining equipment maker disclosed its global retail machine sales dropped 4 percent for the three-month rolling period ended January.
Office Depot Inc. (NYSE: ODP) tumbled 16.73 percent after agreeing to acquire OfficeMax Inc. (NYSE: OMX) in a stock deal. Office Depot will issue 2.69 new shares for each outstanding OfficeMax common stock. OMX dropped 7.15 percent.
Devon Energy Corp. (NYSE: DVN) slumped 6.60 percent after the company posted a quarterly loss hit by a hefty non-cash asset impairment charge.
Analog Devices Inc. (NASDAQ: ADI) lost 2.60 percent after the integrated circuits maker posted quarterly results that missed market expectations.
Garmin Ltd. (NASDAQ: GRMN) tumbled 9.43 percent after the maker of navigation devices reported a drop in quarterly earnings as declines in personal navigation devices (PND) resulted in lower revenue and the company guided 2013 below consensus.
Toll Brothers Inc. (NYSE: TOL) declined 9.05 percent after the luxury-home builder posted first-quarter profit that missed market expectations as average selling price of its homes declined.
Allscripts Healthcare Solutions Inc. (NASDAQ: MDRX) added 13.77 percent after the provider of clinical software applications posted better-than-expected quarterly revenue amid a 12 percent growth in bookings.
NetSpend Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: NTSP) spiked 28.64 percent after the provider of general-purpose reloadable prepaid debit cards (GPR) cards agreed to be acquired for $1.4 billion in cash by Total System Services Inc. (NYSE: TSS). TSS shares fell 6.30 percent.
Sodastream International Ltd. (NASDAQ: SODA) lost 6.37 percent after the developer of home beverage carbonation systems reported its fourth quarter results. Earnings and revenue rose, while gross margin contracted.
La-Z-Boy Inc. (NYSE: LZB) jumped 11.45 percent after the maker of reclining chairs announced quarterly results that topped Wall Street projections.
European markets closed mixed, with Germany's DAX down 0.30 percent to close at 7,728.90. France's CAC40 fell 0.69 percent to finish at 3,709.88. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 rose 0.26 percent to end at 6,395.37.
Asian markets ended higher. The Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.60 percent to end at $2,397.18. Japan's Nikkei 225 added 0.84 percent to end at 11,468.28. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.71 percent to close at 23,307.41. India's Sensex closed at 19,462.75, up 0.04 percent.
Commodity & Currency Scan
Crude oil futures retreated 2.28 percent to $94.46 per barrel, while natural gas futures inched 0.03 percent higher to $3.27 per million metric British thermal units. Gold futures shed 2.54 percent to $1,563.50 per ounce and silver futures fell 3.05 percent to $28.53 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro lost 0.81 percent against the U.S. dollar at 1.3279. The British pound fell 1.19 percent against the greenback to 1.5242, while the dollar creeped 0.02 percent higher against the Japanese yen at 93.5900.