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US: Weak oil shares, Caterpillar hit stocks

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[NEW YORK] Wall Street stocks finished mostly lower on Wednesday as steep drops in petroleum-linked shares and industrial heavyweight Caterpillar weighed on the broader market.

Oil giants ExxonMobil and Chevron fell almost two per cent as equities in the sector tumbled on a steep drop in oil prices following a bearish US supply report.

Caterpillar suffered the biggest drop in the Dow, shedding 2.8 per cent after the New York Times reported that a government-commissioned report concluded the industrial giant intentionally committed tax and financial reporting fraud.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell to 20,855.73, ending the day 0.3 per cent lower.

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The broad-based S&P 500 shed 0.2 per cent to close at 2,362.98, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index edged up less than 0.1 per cent to 5,837.55.

Stocks were up early in the session after payroll services firm ADP reported that US private-sector hiring spiked in February, rising an eye-popping 298,000, the biggest increase in nearly six years.

But analysts said the positive impact of that data was offset by profit taking in stocks after last week's multiple records.

Investors also have questions about an expected Federal Reserve interest rate hike next week, and doubts about whether President Donald Trump can rapidly enact tax cuts and other key aspects of his agenda.

"With the Q4 2016 profit-reporting period behind us, investors are now focusing on the nation's capital for possible trend-altering events, and are unnerved by what they see," said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA.

Chemical company PPG Industries jumped 6.0 per cent following a Bloomberg report it was exploring a possible takeover of Amsterdam-based Akzo Nobel.