The market is still close to record levels after a surge that has put the Standard & Poor's 500 index on track for its best performance since 2009. Stocks have advanced this year as the Federal Reserve kept up its stimulus program to help the U.S. economy recover.
Investors are struggling, however, to find more catalysts to push the market higher. Investors already expect the Fed to keep up its stimulus until at least next year, and company earnings may start to flag if economic growth remains in the doldrums.
"We're going to run out of steam here," said Scott Wren, a senior equity strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors.
The S&P 500 index dropped 4.96 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,762.97. The index is nine points below its record close of 1,771.95 set Oct. 29.
The index is up 0.4 percent this month, a muted gain compared with October, when it rose 4.5 percent as investors bet that the Fed would continue with its economic stimulus after a 16-day government shutdown crimped growth and hurt consumer confidence.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 20.90 points, or 0.1 percent, to 15,618.22. The Nasdaq composite was up 3.27, or less than 0.1 percent, at 3,939.86.
Overall, corporate earnings for the third quarter have been better than analysts had forecast.
Earnings for S&P 500 companies are expected to grow by 5.2 percent in the July-to-September period, according to S&P Capital IQ. That's better than the 4.9 percent growth recorded in the second quarter and the 2.4 percent growth in the same period a year ago.
Stocks could struggle to add to their gains in coming weeks, however, now that three-quarters of the S&P 500's earnings reports have been released, said Kristina Hooper, head of U.S. Capital Markets Research & Strategy at Allianz Global Investors. Investors may also be underestimating the impact that last month's government shutdown had on the economy, she said.
"What's concerning is what we're seeing for the fourth quarter," Hooper said. The forecasts companies are making "suggest that we could see some damage from the shutdown."
The overwhelming majority of earnings outlooks that companies have provided for the fourth quarter have been negative. Of the 78 companies that have provided investors with guidance, 60 have lowered their forecasts.
On Tuesday, Tenet dropped $4.26, or 8.8 percent, to $44. That decreased the stock's gain this year to 36 percent. Expeditors fell $2.88 or 6.2 percent, to $43.41.
Investors are also waiting for the Labor Department's closely watched monthly jobs survey, which was delayed a week by the government shutdown. The report is due out Friday.
In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year note climbed to 2.67 percent from 2.60 percent on Monday.
The yield rose after a private survey showed that hiring and sales increased in the U.S. services sector last month. That suggests the sector wasn't affected by the partial government shutdown. The report measures growth at companies that employ 90 percent of the workforce, including retail, construction, health care and financial services.
In the commodities markets, the price of oil fell $1.25, or 1.3 percent, to $93.37 a barrel. Gold edged down $6.60, or 0.5 percent, to $1,308.10 an ounce.
Among other stocks making big moves:
Delphi Automotive fell $2.99, or 5.2 percent, to $55.01 after the company supplier to auto makers cut its forecast for the year and sales slid.
CVS Caremark rose $1.24, or 2 percent, to $63.22 after its third-quarter income climbed 25 percent, beating Wall Street expectations. The drugstore operator and pharmacy benefits manager also raised its 2013 earnings forecast.
Regeneron jumped $20.62, or 7.3 percent, to $302.32 after the pharmaceutical company posted earnings that beat analysts' expectations. The company also reported strong growth of its eye disease drug Eylea.