By STEVE ROTHWELLAP Markets Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - A series of weak economic reports pushed the stock market sharply lower Wednesday. Stocks fell to their lowest level in a month.
Companies like miners, banks and chemical makers, whose fortunes are most closely tied to the prospects for growth, fell the most. That's a sign investors are becoming less confident in the U.S. economy.
The troubling data released Wednesday included weak hiring at private companies, orders to U.S. factories that were weaker than expected and sluggish job growth in the service sector.
Investors have become increasingly sensitive to economic reports in the last two weeks. They are trying to anticipate when the Federal Reserve will pull back on its $85 billion of bond purchases a month. That program has supported markets this year, and on some days stocks have even rallied on speculation that an ailing economy would ensure the stimulus will remain in place.
"We're pleased to see the market sell off on some bad news," said John Lynch, a regional chief investment officer for Wells Fargo private bank. "The whole idea that bad news was good news was frustrating because it suggests to me that the markets are becoming too Fed-dependent."
The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 18 points, or 1.1 percent, to 1,613 as of 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. That's the lowest since the start of May. The index is more than 3 percent below its record close of 1,669 set May 21.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 165 points, or 1.2 percent, to 14,989, dropping below 15,000 for the first time since May 6.
As traders sold stocks, they bought low-risk U.S. government bonds. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.09 percent from 2.15 percent late Tuesday. The decline suggests investors are becoming less optimistic about the economy.
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