New York - US stocks slipped in light trading on Monday, weighed down by weak economic data from Asia and signs of economic trouble in Europe, underscored by higher Spanish and Italian bond yields.
Monday's decline, the third in a row for the S&P 500 index, comes as quarterly earnings reports get under way. Investors are anxious to see what impact weak demand in Europe and slowing growth in Asia have had on corporate America.
"We think 2Q earnings for the S&P 500 will be OK this quarter ... we're calling for a small 2% beat. That said, we expect the tone of earnings season to be quite negative," said Jonathan Golub, chief strategist at UBS in New York.
Stocks pared losses late in the session, leaving indexes with just slight losses.
Alcoa's stock fluctuated throughout the day, ending up 0.3% at $8.76 in the regular session. Alcoa's shares rose 2% in extended trading after the largest US aluminum company and Dow component released its results, marking the start of the earnings season.
Alcoa posted a second-quarter loss but results, excluding items, beat Wall Street estimates.
Corporate outlooks are at their most negative in nearly four years, and companies that have already reported have shown lackluster growth. Nearly two dozen S&P firms have already cited Europe's woes - which seem to be worsening - as a concern.
While a majority of corporations may beat lowered analyst expectations, investors will be focused on how well companies are handling weakness overseas.
Based on "where we are today, we may see muted to a slightly downward reaction to earnings," said Natalie Trunow, chief investment officer of equities at Calvert Investment Management in Bethesda, Maryland, whose firm manages about $13bn in assets.
The Dow Jones industrial average ended down 36.18 points, at 12,736.29. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 2.22 points, at 1,352.46. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 5.56 points, at 2,931.77.
Volume was among the lightest of the year. About 5.1 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and Amex, compared with the year-to-date daily average of 6.85 billion shares.
Italian borrowing costs continued to rise on Monday while Spanish 10-year yields rose above 7%. That level is seen as unsustainable in the longer-term and reflecting doubts over how measures agreed last month to stem the eurozone debt crisis will be implemented.
In economic news, machinery orders in Japan fell at a record pace in May, while inflation in China eased to a 29-month low, suggesting falling demand from Europe and the United States for exports.
The overseas data comes on the heels of Friday's disappointing US jobs report, which showed non-farm payrolls grew by only 80 000 in June.
From a technical standpoint, the S&P 500 remains about 10 points above the 1,342 support level and the 50-day moving average at 1,340, said Randy Frederick, managing director of active trading & derivatives at Charles Schwab.
Among the day's decliners, Visa Inc shares fell 1.3% to $123.65 and MasterCard shares lost 2.3% to $431.27. UBS Investment Research downgraded the payment processors to sell, citing slower consumer spending in the United States and sluggish global economic growth.
On a positive note, Amerigroup Corp jumped 38% to $88.80 after the company agreed to be acquired by rival WellPoint for about $4.46bn. WellPoint shares advanced 3.4% to $61.95. Health insurer Wellcare Health Plans surged 18.4% to $62.56 and the Morgan Stanley healthcare payor index climbed 10.1%.
Chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices' shares dropped 11% to $5 after it warned that its revenue would decrease about 11% in the second quarter compared with the previous quarter due to softer-than-expected sales in China and Europe and weak consumer spending.