NEW YORK, July 29 (Xinhua) -- U.S. stocks closed lower after fluctuating between gains and losses Tuesday, as investors became restless after the European Union (EU) imposed a new round of economic sanctions against Russia.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average went down 70.48 points, or 0. 42 percent, to 16,912.11. The S&P 500 lost 8.96 points, or 0.45 percent, to 1,969.95. The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 2.21 points, or 0.05 percent, to 4,442.70.
The market opened slightly higher, boosted by a pair of Dow components -- Pfizer and Merck -- both of which reported better- than-expected quarterly profits and revenues before the opening bell.
U.S. stocks then staged a volatile trading session, as investors weighed increasing geopolitical tensions in Ukraine against robust U.S. consumer confidence. The EU agreed Tuesday to slap its most sweeping sanctions yet on Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.
Following the European move, U.S. President Barack Obama also announced wider punitive measures targeting Russia's energy, arms and finance sectors, dragging down stocks.
Geopolitical tensions stirred market volatility. The CBOE Volatility Index, often referred to as Wall Street's fear gauge, climbed up 5.73 percent to end at 13.28, which is still below the long term average of 20.
On the economic front, U.S. consumer confidence improved again in July, with the index rising to 90.9, the highest level since October 2007, the New York-based research group Conference Board said Tuesday in a report.
Meanwhile, U.S. home prices slowed down in May, according to closely-watched S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices released Tuesday by S&P Dow Jones Indices. The 10-City Composite gained 9.4 percent year over year, and the 20-City increased 9.3 percent, down from the 10.9 percent and 10.8 percent yearly pace in April, respectively.
On a monthly basis, the 10- and 20-City Composites posted gains of 1.1 percent.
Shortly after the closing bell, social media company Twitter reported a sharper-than-expected loss in profits in the second quarter, but its revenue came above market consensus. In response, the microblogging site's shares skyrocketed in after-hours trading.
Investors are also keeping an eye on the Federal Reserve's two- day policy meeting starting on Tuesday. The U.S. central bank is widely expected to announce a further reduction of 10 billion U.S. dollars in its asset purchases during the meeting. Analysts will also try to look for clues to the conditions that would warrant the first rate hike.
On the previous trading day, U.S. stocks closed little changed, as investors grew cautious ahead of a slew of key U.S. economic data in the very busy week, including the second-quarter gross domestic product and the July nonfarm payroll report.
In other markets, the dollar rebounded against major currencies Tuesday as investors expect the U.S. central bank to show a more hawkish tone during the ongoing policy meeting.
In late New York trading, the euro fell to 1.3410 dollars from 1.3434 dollars of the previous session. The dollar bought 102.13 Japanese yen, higher than 101.87 yen of the previous session.
U.S. crude price fell as the market was awaiting inventories data to be released Wednesday.
Light, sweet crude for September delivery moved down 70 cents to settle at 100.97 dollars a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while Brent crude for September delivery gained 15 cents to close at 107.72 dollars a barrel.
Gold futures on the COMEX division of the New York Mercantile Exchange fell, as traders weighed a possible interest rate hike after data showed strong U.S. consumer confidence.
The most active gold contract for August delivery fell 5 dollars, or 0.38 percent, to 1,298.3 dollars per ounce.