“We were positive the whole day and we sort of lost our gains right at the tail end,” said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors in New York.
“If crude were to be going down, that would mean there is an assumption this deal may get through Congress or the President’s veto won’t get overturned by Congress such that this Iranian flood of crude comes onto the market.”
Financials, up 0.7 percent, helped curb declines. The group was buoyed by a 3.2 percent rise in Bank of America (BAC) to $17.68 and a 3.8 percent gain in U.S. Bancorp (USB) to $45.53 after their quarterly results.
The S&P snapped a four-session winning streak, its longest run of gains since January.
Celgene (CELG) climbed 7 percent to $131.39 after touching a record high of $135.98. The company said it would buy Receptos to get a potential multibillion-dollar drug.
Yellen said she expects the economy to grow steadily for the rest of the year, allowing the Fed to hike rates, but gave no direct hint on the timing or pace of a hike. The Fed is broadly expected to hike rates in September or December.
The Fed’s Beige Book showed U.S. economic activity continued to expand from mid-May through June, with lower energy prices helping boost consumer spending but remaining a drag on manufacturing.
The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 3.41 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 18,050.17, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index (^GSPC) lost 1.54 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,107.41 and the the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 5.95 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,098.94.
Corporate America is expected to report its worst sales decline in nearly six years in the second quarter, while profit is expected to have fallen 2.9 percent, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) estimates. The effect of the uncertainty in the Chinese markets and the strong dollar will also be in focus.
Yum Brands (YUM) fell 2.9 percent to $88.88. The owner of Pizza Hut and KFC reported its fourth straight quarter of falling sales, indicating it is still struggling to regain lost ground in China after a food safety scandal last year.
The Nasdaq is likely to get a lift Thursday on the heels of results from Intel and Netflix after the market close. Intel (INTC) jumped 5.4 percent to $31.30 while Netflix (NFLX) surged 10.4 percent to $108.20 in extended trade, sending Nasdaq e-mini futures up nearly 20 points.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,841 to 1,223, for a 1.51-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,826 issues fell and 998 advanced for a 1.83-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.
The benchmark S&P 500 index posted 30 new 52-week highs and 16 new lows; the Nasdaq composite recorded 140 new highs and 64 new lows.
Volume was light, with about 5.8 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, below the 6.66 billion average so far this month, according to data from BATS Global Markets.