Even though a key barometer for the manufacturing sector increased for a second straight month, investors weren't ready to commit to any significant buying.
The National Association of Purchasing Management reported its manufacturing index advanced to 43.1 from 41.9 in February, surprising financial markets, which had been girding for a weak 41.4 reading, according to a Reuters poll.
However, American Express, a Dow component, fell $1.59 to $39.71 after warning that its first-quarter earnings will fall short of expectations.
"We are going to have a lot more of this, a lot of volatility in the coming weeks with more American Express-type announcements," Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies told Reuters. "We are still nervous about how much the economy has slowed and how adversely it is going to affect earnings."
Intel lost 56 cents to finish at $25.75. Advanced Micro Devices slid $1.04 to $25.50, while IBM ended off $1.52 to $94.66.
Among widely held PC stocks, Dell Computer fell $1.63 to $24.06; Compaq Computer dropped 22 cents to $17.98; Gateway lost 86 cents to $15.95, and Apple Computer shaved off 48 cents to close at $21.59.
Microsoft managed to gain $1.13 to $55.81. Oracle rose 34 cents to $15.32, and Sun Microsystems ended off 18 cents to $15.19.
Shares of Art Technology plunged $6.03 to $5.97 after the company announced it will see a loss instead of the profit Wall Street was expecting in its first quarter. Analysts downgraded the software maker and said things aren't likely to improve anytime soon.
Citing delayed customer purchases, business-to-business software company i2 Technologies, said it may lay off up to 10 percent of its work force and will miss expectations for first-quarter earnings. The stock closed up 94 cents to $15.44.
Yahoo lost $1.75 to $14. America Online Time Warner fell $2.98 to $37.17, while eBay and Amazon.com tumbled 88 cents and $1.13 a share, respectively. CMGI fell 15 cents to $2.39.
Acxiom shares lost $9.38 to $11.50 after a profit warning and news of an accounting change.
Broadband company Rhythms NetConnections is considering putting itself up for sale amid a delisting notice from the Nasdaq and a question from its auditors on whether it has enough cash to continue operating. The stock lost 13 cents to finish at 31 cents.
Staff and Reuters contributed to this report.