NEW YORK — Stocks fell modestly Wednesday in the United States, following Asian and European markets lower, as traders awaited clues about Federal Reserve action to stimulate the economy.
The National Association of Realtors said Americans bought more homes in July than in June and prices rose, evidence of a slowly recovering housing market. The 2.3 percent increase from the June was the first in three months.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 22 points at 13,181 a half-hour after the opening bell. The Standard & Poor's 500 index, which on Tuesday hit its highest point in four years, slid two points to 1,412.
The Nasdaq composite index rose four to 3,063. Both the Dow and the Nasdaq had briefly risen.
In the U.S., traders awaited the Federal Reserve's release of minutes from the latest meeting of its rate-setting Open Market Committee. Investors were looking for hints of upcoming moves to stimulate the economy.
European markets declined as eurozone leaders met with their counterparts from Greece, which has asked for more time to meet its debt reduction targets. The delay could set up a confrontation with Germany, which has been growing impatient.
Germany's key stock index, the DAX, and France's CAC 40 slipped more than 1 percent.
Earlier in the day, Asian markets closed down after Japan posted a trade deficit for July, reversing a year-ago surplus and adding to signs of a global economic slowdown.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index shed 0.3 percent, while South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.4 percent and mainland China's Shanghai Composite Index slid 0.5 percent.
Bond traders have become skittish about the Asian slowdown and the debt crisis in Europe. Investors returned to the haven of U.S. Treasurys, sending the yield on the benchmark 10-year down to 1.75 percent from 1.81 percent late Tuesday.
Riding an improving housing market, high-end home builder Toll Brothers reported 46 percent growth in its quarterly net income after delivering more homes at higher prices to its customers. Its stock rose more than 3 percent, or $1.18, to $32.99.
Toll Brothers caters to the luxury sector, which has withstood the economic downturn better than others. Its target market includes households that making more than $100,000 a year, with better credit and more job security.
The Commerce Department reported last week that applications for building permits rose to their highest level since August 2008, which signals that construction companies are growing more confident about the housing landscape.
Among other stocks making big moves Wednesday:
— Dell slumped 6 percent and traded near its 52-week low of $11.39. The computer maker said PC sales remained weak in its fiscal second quarter, and it forecast a disappointing third quarter and lowered its full-year profit forecast. Its stock slid 81 cents to $11.53.
— Williams-Sonoma jumped 9 percent after the kitchen and home store chain reported a 10 percent jump in profit. Its stock rose $3.44 to $41.67.