information technology sectors were the S&P 500's weakest performers, with the S&P energy index down 0.9 percent.
In the energy sector, shares of Nabors Industries Ltd dropped 4.7 percent to $13.85 after Jefferies cut the drilling company's rating. Shares of U.S. refining company Phillips 66 lost 1.6 percent to $52.21.
The day's economic data sent some positive signals on the economy, with weekly claims for jobless benefits dropping to nearly the lowest level since February 2008, and retail sales rising in November after an October decline, improving the picture for consumer spending.
In Europe, European Union finance ministers reached agreement to make the European Central Bank the bloc's top banking supervisor, which could boost confidence in EU leaders' ability to confront the euro zone's sovereign debt crisis.
Volume was roughly 6.11 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the year-to-date average daily closing volume of 6.52 billion.
Decliners outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by a ratio of about 7 to 3, and on the Nasdaq, more than five stocks fell for every three that rose.