U.S. stock prices drifted lower Tuesday, as investors confronted more economic uncertainty and the prospect of a long battle against terrorism in the wake of last month's attacks on New York and Washington.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 15 points, for a fractional loss, to 9,052. The broader Standard and Poor's 500 index fell five points, almost half a percent, while the tech-weighted Nasdaq composite lost more than two percent.
Microsoft weighted on the markets, after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider overturning an earlier ruling by a lower court that the software giant had violated antitrust laws. Microsoft shares dropped six percent.
Trading overall was quiet, with no clear direction. Analysts say investors faced more uncertainty about the length of the war on terrorism and its implications for an already weak U.S. economy.
U.S. companies this week start reporting third-quarter earnings. Wall Street expects profits to decline by more than 20 percent, making it the worst quarter for corporate America in a decade.
Intel, the world's leading computer chip maker, felt pressure Tuesday. A Wall Street firm cuts its sales estimates for the company, amid a general slowdown in the semiconductor business.
Veteran analyst Larry Wachtel says October does not look good for U.S. stocks.
"The third quarter earnings are going to be very poor," he said. "Fourth quarter guidance is going to be murky at best. Only when we get into November-December and begin to look toward recovery in the spring of next year, can you make a case for a major market move."
Market-watcher Peter Henderson says add to the mix of bad news investor fears about terrorism and money may stay on the sidelines for a while.
"Everybody thinks, and rightly so, that it could be a while before we have any sort of feeling of security," he said. "And with people watching for another attack to happen, it's just not a great environment for investing in stocks right now."
Some experts believe the Dow Industrials will have a tough time staying above the 9,000 level, where it has hovered this week without conviction.