Business

Stocks sag as a two-day rally peters out

Stocks retreated Wednesday and gave back some of their gains from a day earlier, when the Standard & Poor’s 500 index had one of its best days of the year.

Advertising companies and retailers had some of the steepest drops, on worries about their earnings, while prices for Treasury bonds and gold rose modestly as investors sought safer ground. It was the latest move lower for a stock market that has yo-yoed since setting a record high earlier this month.

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The S&P 500 fell 0.3 percent, to 2,444.04, relinquishing about a third of its big gain from Tuesday. The loss snapped a two-day winning streak that followed a nearly two-week slump. After all its back and forth, the S&P 500 is still within 1.5 percent of its record.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.4 percent, to 21,812.09, and the Nasdaq Composite lost 0.3 percent, to 6,278.41. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks fell 0.1 percent, to 1,369.74.

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Advertising companies had the biggest losses in the S&P 500 after an industry giant cut its forecast. WPP warned that its clients are feeling pressure to control their spending, and the stock plunged 10.9 percent in London. In the United States, Omnicom Group fell 7 percent, and Interpublic Group lost 6.3 percent.

Lowe’s, the home-improvement retailer, also dragged down the S&P 500 after it reported quarterly profit and revenue weaker than expected. It gave a profit outlook for the year that fell short of Wall Street’s forecast, and its stock fell 3.7 percent. A report showing that sales of new homes were weaker in July than economists expected didn’t help.

Worries about politics were a big reason for the market’s stumbles in recent weeks. In Washington, the concern is about whether the government can push through tax cuts and other pro-business policies that were considered slam-dunks early this year. Now, the market seems to have little to no expectation for much help from Washington, said Katie Nixon, chief investment officer at Northern Trust Wealth Management.

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‘‘Actions speak louder than words, and when we see actual action, you’ll see markets sit up and take notice,’’ she said. ‘‘But so far it’s been a rhetorical exercise.’’

Markets are also looking to Wyoming, where central bankers from around the world are gathering soon. The heads of the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank are expected to speak at a symposium, which begins Thursday, and investors are waiting to hear if any change is upcoming in their support for the global economy.

Most analysts expect to hear nothing surprising. The Fed has already begun raising interest rates and is preparing to pare back the $4.5 trillion in Treasurys and other investments it has amassed.

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