Stocks in the US and other global markets fell for a fourth day on Tuesday as jittery investors awaited the Federal Reserve's decision on interest rates and worried about Britain's expected close vote on whether to leave the European Union.
Credit card company stocks fell sharply after Synchrony Financial, the country's leading issuer of store brand credit cards, warned that more of its customers were falling behind on payments.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 57.66 points, or 0.3%, to 17,674.82. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3.74 points, or 0.2%, to 2,075.32 and the Nasdaq composite fell 4.89 points, or 0.1%, to 4,843.55.
As stocks declined, US government bond yields remained at their lowest levels since 2012 as investors sought safety ahead of the Fed meeting and the vote in Britain. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was 1.62%, up slightly from a day earlier.
In Europe, benchmark German government bond yields fell below zero percent for the first time, a signal that skittish investors are willing to pay to park their money in investments they consider super-safe.
The Federal Reserve's two-day meeting started Tuesday, with a decision on interest rates to be announced Wednesday. The Fed had been expected to raise interest rates, but following some weak economic data, including the most recent monthly jobs report, it now appears likely to wait.
Most investors are focused overseas right now. There is grave uncertainty about whether British voters will choose to leave the European Union in a June 23 referendum. Polls show the vote could go either way and investors are starting to worry about the consequences.
A British exit from the EU, known informally as Brexit, would likely hurt the British economy most and destabilise the rest of Europe. The repercussions, however, are not clear and investors are reacting to the general uncertainty over the situation.
"Investors are 'Brexit' proofing their portfolios right now," said Anastasia Amoroso, a global markets strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.
Ms Amoroso said that if the UK were to leave the EU, both the British and European Central Banks would likely lower interest rates to stabilise the continent's economy, which would put pressure on bonds.
"Expect drastic volatility around this vote, and if it does in fact happen look for more countries to leave the EU as well," said Tom di Galoma, a bond trader and managing director at Seaport Global, in an email.
In individual companies, Synchrony Financial plunged 3.99 US dollars, or 13%, to 26.45 US dollars after the company disclosed that more of its customers were falling behind on payments. The company is also taking losses on more accounts than anticipated.
The news hit other credit card companies hard. American Express fell 2.60 US dollars, or 4%, to 61.07 US dollars and Capital One Financial fell 4.57 US dollars, or 6.6%, to 64.43 US dollars.
In commodities, benchmark U.S. crude dropped 39 cents to 48.49 US dollars per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 52 cents to 49.83 US dollars per barrel in London.
The dollar fell to 105.97 yen from 106.21 yen. The euro edged down to 1.1205 from 1.1293 US dollars.