NEW YORK, Feb. 19 -- U.S. stocks drifted lower after volatile trading Wednesday, with the Nasdaq Composite Index halting its gains of eight days in a row, following the release of minutes of the Federal Reserve's January policy meeting in the day.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 89.84 points, or 0.56 percent, to 16,040.56. The S&P 500 dipped 12.01 points, or 0.65 percent, to 1,828.75. The Nasdaq slipped 34.83 points, or 0.82 percent, to 4,237.95.
Wall Street staged seesaw trading session on weak housing data, before sinking shortly after the release of the minutes of the latest policy-setting meeting, which ignited market concerns over interest rate hikes.
"A few participants raised the possibility that it might be appropriate to increase the federal funds rate relatively soon," the minutes said, though there was still a lack of consensus on the new rate guidance among top Fed officials.
A rise in interest rates is broadly considered to put a damper on risky assets including equities.
At its last policy meeting, the U.S. central bank announced a further reduction in its bond purchases by 10 billion U.S. dollars to 65 billion dollars starting February.
On the economic front, U.S. privately owned housing starts in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 880,000, 16 percent below the upwardly revised December estimate of 1.048 million, while building permits fell 5.4 percent to 937,000 in January, the Commerce Department said.
Moreover, U.S. mortgage applications slipped 4.1 percent for the week ending Feb. 14 from a week earlier, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Among other data, the U.S. Producer Price Index for final demand increased 0.2 percent in January on a seasonally adjusted basis, which followed a 0.1-percent rise in December and no change in November, the Labor Department said.
In corporate news, Tesla Motors shares soared in after-hours trading as the electric car maker reported shortly after the closing bell record number of Model S vehicles sold in the fourth quarter and said that it sees vehicle production rising to 1,000 cars per week by the end of 2014.
On the previous trading day, the U.S. stocks closed mixed, with the S&P 500 edging up closer to its all-time high set in mid- January despite downbeat U.S. economic data.