Investors looked warily at forecasts for poor U.S. corporate earnings and weaker growth in Asia and decided there wasn't much reason to buy stocks.
The Dow Jones industrial average gave up 26.50 points to close at 13583.65 points Monday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 5.05 points to 1455.88 and the Nasdaq composite lost 23.84 points to 3112.35.
Companies in the S&P 500 index are expected to post an overall decline in profits for the first time in 11 quarters, according to FactSet. The third-quarter earnings season starts Tuesday when aluminum maker Alcoa releases its results.
Tuesday also marks the five-year anniversary of the record high closes of the Dow and the S&P 500. The S&P, a benchmark tracked by many mutual funds, is currently about 7 percent below its record high. The Dow is about 4 percent below its peak.
Stocks have been on a strong run, with the Dow up 11 percent this year, the S&P 500 nearly 16 percent. But Asia's slowdown, Europe's problems, and now forecasts of weak U.S. corporate earnings have caused some investors to wonder whether the stock market has risen too far, too fast.
On top of those concerns, some market leaders such as Apple have been falling in recent days, noted Bob Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners LLC.
"It sort of leads folks into thinking, 'Why don't I take a little bit of profit off the table, put it away,'" and maybe re-invest it if third-quarter results turn out to be higher than expected, he said.
Apple closed above $700 Sept. 18, but has been declining since then. On Monday it fell $14.42 to $638.17.