Wall Street stock prices retreated from five-year highs on Monday, while the euro rose against the dollar on bets the European Central Bank might refrain from signaling more interest rate cuts on Thursday.
The weakness in the equities market, partly due to caution ahead of companies beginning to report on their fourth-quarter earnings, spurred selling of oil, gold and other risky investments. This stoked some safety bids for U.S. and German government debt.
Investors turned their focus to corporate profits in the last three months of 2012, when growth in American holiday spending and corporate investments was tepid as shoppers and companies dialed back on worries about the United States going over the 'fiscal cliff' - a series of automatic tax hikes and government spending cuts which could have kicked in if a budget deal in Washington were not reached last week.
"There is little doubt that concerns about the fiscal cliff created spending hesitancy in both consumers and businesses in the fourth quarter, and it is likely that will adversely impact earnings season," said Randy Frederick, managing director of active trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas.
Earnings are expected to be only slightly better than the third-quarter's lackluster results and analysts' current estimates are down sharply from what they were in October.
"I think it's going to be a disappointing one this time around," Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York, said of the upcoming earnings season that unofficially launches with aluminum maker Alcoa reporting its results after Tuesday's market close.
Uneasiness about corporate profits emerged even after data on Friday showed U.S. employers kept up a modest pace of hiring in December and the vast services sector expanded.
Hopes for global economic recovery got a boost after the Basel Committee of banking supervisors agreed to give banks four more years and greater flexibility than previously envisaged to build protective cash buffers. That means they can use more of their reserves to lend and help economies grow.
In the United States, news of a longer timetable for banks to manage their capital was overshadowed by 10 banks agreeing to pay $8.5 billion to settle a federal review of their questionable foreclosure practices.
In midafternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 74.46 points, or 0.55 percent, at 13,360.75. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 8.30 points, or 0.57 percent, at 1,458.17. The Nasdaq Composite Index was