So far this reporting season, about a fifth of the companies in the S&P 500 have reported fourth-quarter earnings, with about 65 percent of them beating analyst estimates — a solid performance, said Christine Short, associate director at S&P Capital IQ. She said that is about the historical average.
But investors seem more focused on the global economy, and on projections from companies for the coming year.
“The guidance has been very guarded and analysts are not lifting their numbers for 2014,” said David Bianco, head U.S. stock strategist at Deutsche Bank.
United Continental fell 75 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $48.43 after its prediction for revenue growth this quarter disappointed investors.
The pullback comes after a stellar run for stocks last year. The Dow rose nearly 27 percent and the S&P, nearly 30 percent.
“The market at these levels is a bit skittish,” said James Dunigan, chief investment strategist at PNC Wealth Management. He added that “any kink in the growth story ... is going to give investors pause.”
Some companies bucked the selling tide. Netflix surged $54.99, or 17 percent, to $388.72, the biggest gain in the S&P 500. After trading ended Wednesday, the streaming video company reported fourth-quarter earnings had climbed six-fold and that it had added 2.3 million subscribers during the period.
Technology stocks fell less than the rest of the market. The Nasdaq composite declined 24.13 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,218.87.
Among other stocks making big moves:
• American Eagle Outfitters dropped $1.12, or 8 percent, to $13.19 after announcing the unexpected departure of its CEO, Robert Hanson. The teen retailer had reported disappointing sales over the holiday season.
• Nokia plunged 67 cents, or 9 percent, to $7.03 after posting a fourth-quarter loss on falling handset sales. The mobile phone business is part of the device and services unit that the Finnish company has agreed to sell to Microsoft.
• Union Pacific rose $5.62, or 3 percent, to $174.12 after reporting a 13 percent jump in fourth-quarter earnings, beating analyst forecasts.