NEW YORK Stocks fell on Wednesday as high-yielding dividend stocks lost some of their luster after recent gains in U.S. Treasury bond yields.
Benchmark Treasury yields overnight hit 2.235 percent - the highest in more than a year - and have risen since last week when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke raised fears that the Fed would curb its bond-buying program sooner than most people expected.
Indexes made up of consumer staples, health care, telecommunications and utilities shares - S&P 500 sectors that include many stocks that pay high dividends - all slid more than 1 percent. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N), down 2.2 percent at $85.65, was the biggest drag on the S&P 500.
"The recent rise in interest rates on the 10-year bond over the past few sessions has finally caught up with some of this year's market leaders," said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist for RDM Financial in Westport, Connecticut, adding that investors were cashing in profits.
The defensive sectors have led the gains in this year's market rally as investors favored high-dividend stocks over fixed-income securities in a low interest-rate environment.
The spread between the S&P 500 dividend yield and the 10-year U.S. Treasury note's yield is at its narrowest in about a year. The S&P 500 dividend yield was about 2.39 percent near Wednesday's close.
Shares of Fannie Mae FNMA.OB and Freddie Mac FMCC.OB dropped sharply in heavy volume, reversing sharp early gains. Shares of Fannie Mae plunged 28.9 percent to $2.90, with about 272 billion shares traded, while shares of Freddie Mac sank 30.4 percent to $2.61, with 119 billion shares traded.
Fund manager Bruce Berkowitz's Fairholme Capital Management is making a big bet on preferred shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, CNBC reported. Until Wednesday's pullback, Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's shares had risen for seven straight days.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI slid 106.59 points, or 0.69 percent, to close at 15,302.80. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX dropped 11.70 points, or 0.70 percent, to finish at 1,648.36. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC fell 21.37 points, or 0.61 percent, to end at 3,467.52.
Both the S&P telecoms sector index .SPLRCL and the S&P utilities sector index .SPLRCU fell 1.5 percent. The S&P consumer staples index .SPLRCS tumbled 1.9 percent while the S&P health care index .SPXHC declined 1.5 percent.
At the same time, the iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond exchange-traded fund (TLT.P) added 1.1 percent, bouncing back from a drop of 2.6 percent on Tuesday.
Loose monetary policies by central banks around the world have lifted stock markets, driving both the Dow and the S&P 500 to record highs this year.
The S&P 500 is up 15.6 percent from its close at the end of 2012.
Among the day's gainers, Smithfield Foods SFD.N surged 28.4 percent to $33.35 after China's Shuanghui Group agreed to buy the company for $34 a share.
SLM Corp (SLM.O) rose 2.2 percent to $23.48 after the student loan provider said it would split the company into two publicly traded entities. The company named John Remondi as its chief executive officer.
Volume was roughly 6.7 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, slightly above the average daily closing volume of about 6.4 billion this year.
Decliners outpaced advancers on the NYSE by a ratio of nearly 4 to 1. On the Nasdaq, about 17 stocks fell for every eight that rose.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum, Nick Zieminski, Kenneth Barry and Jan Paschal)