The S&P 500 had surged 6 percent over the previous two weeks, capped by a record close of 1,754.67 on Tuesday. The index climbed as lawmakers inched toward a deal to end a 16-day partial government shutdown and avert a potential U.S. default. Investors also became more convinced that the Federal Reserve would refrain from pulling back on its economic stimulus until possibly next year.
"We need to let a little bit of air out of the balloon here," said Alec Young, a global equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ. "We've seen a huge rally, so there's a bit of short-term exhaustion."
Energy stocks fell the most of the 10 industry groups in the S&P 500. The price of oil slipped $1.44, or 1.5 percent, to $96.86 a barrel, on higher supplies of U.S. oil and weak demand for fuel.
Along with weaker earnings, Caterpillar issued a lower profit forecast. Its stock dropped $5.41, or 6.1 percent, to close at $83.76.
Broadcom was another company that disappointed Wall Street. Shares of the communications chip maker fell 78 cents or 2.9 percent, to $26.36. The company on Tuesday gave a disappointing revenue outlook for the fourth quarter. Also weighing on the stock was Apple's decision not to include a new wireless computer networking standard in its latest iPad model.
It wasn't all bad news from Corporate America.
Boeing raised its profit estimate for the full year because deliveries of commercial planes continue to accelerate. The plane maker's stock climbed $6.54, or 5.3 percent, to $129.02.
In other trading Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 54.33 points, or 0.4 percent, to 15,413.33. The index of 30 leading U.S. companies hasn't rallied like the S&P 500 index, and remains 263 points below its own all-time closing high reached on Sept. 18.
The Nasdaq composite dropped 22.49 points, or 0.6 percent, to 3,907.07, ending a five-day streak of higher closes.
While some earnings disappointed investors on Wednesday, most companies are reporting profits that are better than expected. About sixty percent of the companies in the S&P 500 that have reported third-quarter earnings have beaten analysts' forecasts, according to data from S&P Capital IQ.
"Obviously we've had one casualty today with Caterpillar but, so far, most companies have beaten market expectations," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital.
S&P 500 companies are expected to report earnings growth of 3.5 percent for the July-to-September quarter over the same period a year earlier. Revenue is expected to rise by 3.9 percent.
In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note eased to 2.50 percent from 2.51 percent late Tuesday.
The yield, which is used to set interest rates on many kinds of loans including mortgages, is the lowest it's been since mid-July. It has fallen 0.5 percent since reaching a high for the year of 3 percent on Sept. 5. Investors have bought Treasurys, pushing down their yield, as the outlook for economic growth has weakened since the government shutdown.
The dimmer outlook has an upside, though. Many analysts and economists expect the Fed to continue its economic stimulus until next year to help the economy. The Fed is currently buying $85 billion in bonds every month to keep interest rates low. That program has helped drive a 4 ½ year bull market for stocks.
In commodities, the price of gold fell $8.60, or 0.6 percent, to $1,334 an ounce.
Among other stocks making big moves:
Corning surged $2.17, or 14.1 percent, to $17.52 after the company announced a deal with a Samsung Electronics subsidiary that will boost the glass maker's earnings immediately.
Safeway rose $2.68, or 8.1 percent, to $35.58 after a report from Reuters late yesterday that "a handful" of buyout firms, including Cerberus Capital Management, are exploring a deal for all, or part, of the supermarket chain.