New York - US stocks retreated in choppy session and ended modestly lower Tuesday after major indexes jumped to 2012 highs in a central bank-fuelled rally.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 43.90 points, or 0.33 percent, at 13,197.73. The Standard & Poor's 500 was down 3.99 points, or 0.28 percent, to 1,412.52. The Nasdaq Composite Index dipped 2.22 points, or 0.07 percent, to 3,120.35, Xinhua reported.
Investors seemed to find little reason to push the market a step higher, given the strong rally in the previous session fuelled by remarks from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke saying the central bank would bolster the economy if the recovery weakened.
Meanwhile, Tuesday's data showed a rocky start for the housing market, with home prices falling for the fifth month in a row to the lowest level since early 2003.
The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city composite index fell 0.8 percent, with 16 of 20 metropolitan areas seeing price declines, which suggest the housing sector was still lagging compared with other parts of the economy.
A separate report showed that US consumer sentiment pulled back slightly in March after the index hit a one-year high in the previous month, private business group the Conference Board said Tuesday.
According to its monthly survey, the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index slipped to 70.2 from an upwardly revised 71.6, lower than the market expectation of 70.8.
Among stocks in focus, Apple hit an all-time high after Thinkequity boosted its price target on the iPad maker to $700 from $600 as its CEO Tim Cook was in China to clear up a number of problems in one of its most fast-growing markets.
Even after Tuesday's decline, the S&P 500 is still on track to close its best quarter since 2009 and its fourth straight month of gains.
In other markets, the US dollar rose against major currencies in late New York trading while US crude prices edged up Tuesday as fears of supplies reduction lingered, but rising possibility of US tapping strategic oil reserves limited the gains.
Light, sweet crude for May delivery gained 30 cents, or 0.28 percent to settle at $107.33 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.