Gold Prices Back Off Highs as Silver Moves Higher

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — U.S. stocks indexes edged lower Tuesday, with investors hesitant to extend a winning run into a fourth consecutive session.
U.S. war plane crashes in Libya

A U.S. war plane crashes in Libya, and its crew members ejected safely.

“The market is paying attention to everything — it’s just not sure how to react,” said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at Miller Tabak, pointing to uncertainty about how events will play out in Japan and Libya.

The nuclear crisis in Japan and fighting in Libya have set the stage for volatile markets in recent sessions, with the Dow industrials making triple-digit moves in four of the past five trading days.

“While the [Japanese] reactor seems to be stabilizing, [we need to see] what comes next in terms of rebuilding and the impact on commodity prices,” Boockvar said.

At last check, the Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/comstock/10w!i:dji/delayed (DJIA 12,015, -22.03, -0.18%)  fell 7.57 points to 12,028.96. On Monday, the blue-chip average posted its biggest gain since a three-day run that ended Sept. 3, 2010, and finished above 12,000 for the first time since Japan’s March 11 earthquake.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index /quotes/comstock/21z!i1:in\x (SPX 1,294, -4.61, -0.36%)  shed 2.21 points to 1,296.17, with the materials sector the worst performing of its 10 industry groups and health-care stocks faring the best.

The Nasdaq Composite Index /quotes/comstock/10y!i:comp (COMP 2,682, -9.61, -0.36%)   was off 3.03 points at 2,689.06.

Decliners edged just ahead of advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, where 213 million shares traded by 10:50 a.m. Eastern.

“The reflex rally in the equity market that began last Thursday appears to be slowing down. Given the rapid three-day bounce off last week’s low, it is not surprising to see some traders consider taking quick profits,” Fred Dickson, chief investment strategist at Davidson Cos., wrote in an email.

Oil prices reversed earlier losses, with the April futures contract /quotes/comstock/21n!f:cl\j11 (CLJ11 103.62, +1.29, +1.26%) , which expires at the end of Tuesday’s trading, up 79 cents to $103.12 a barrel. The more active contract for May delivery /quotes/comstock/21n!f:cl\k11 (CLK11 104.27, +1.18, +1.15%)  gained 72 cents to $103.81.

Miller Tabak’s Boockvar downplayed the impact of Tuesday’s economic reports, which showed home prices sliding in January and a measure of manufacturing in the Virginia region slipping in March from February.

“The data is old news; it’s pre-spike in oil prices and pre-earthquake. We may have to wait for first-quarter earnings to see the impact,” Boockvar said.

Kate Gibson is a reporter for MarketWatch, based in New York.