Reports of new anthrax infections overshadow earnings reports from the likes of Lucent Technologies and EarthLink.
The Nasdaq fell 3.64 points to 1,704.44, and the Dow Jones industrial average slipped 36.95 to 9,340.08. CNET's technology indexes were down, with some gains in the Internet e-tailing and PC software sectors.
The markets had risen Monday and early Tuesday despite new reports of anthrax in Washington. But another case of the disease, detected in a New Jersey postal worker, and a confirmation that the bacteria caused the death of two Washington postal workers, put pressure on the markets Tuesday afternoon.
"There's a real lingering fear that as the anthrax issue widens it strikes not only at the physical well-being of people, but at the well-being of the economy," said Peter Coolidge, senior equity trader at Brean Murray.
With no economic news on the calendar, investors also focused on a new batch of quarterly reports. Before the markets opened Tuesday, Lucent, AT&T Wireless and EarthLink checked in with quarterly results.
Lucent fell 26 cents to $6.64 after it reported a larger-than-expected loss, but the company said it would be profitable in 2002. The telecommunications-gear maker said it lost 27 cents a share, excluding one-time items. Analysts had expected the company to lose 23 cents, according to First Call.
EarthLink, off $2.51, or 14 percent, to $14.85, reported positive results for its third-quarter. The Internet service provider said loss, excluding items, narrowed as revenue rose, driven by the company's high-speed Internet access business.
AT&T Wireless posted solid third-quarter results but said it will exit the fixed wireless business in the fourth quarter and take a related pretax charge of $1.3 billion. Shares were up $1.26 to $14.20.
AT&T, down 60 cents to $17.70, will report its results after the closing bell Tuesday.
Also slated to report results Tuesday night are Compaq Computer, off 25 cents to $9.40, and Amazon.com, up 78 cents to $9.55.
Among companies reporting earnings Monday evening, online travel site Expedia saw its shares rise $2.60, or 9 percent, to $31.83. The Internet company announced that its net operating profit was 24 cents a share, beating Wall Street's expectations for earnings of 14 cents a share. Though the number had been lowered since Sept. 11 to reflect the downturn in air travel resulting from the terrorist attacks, the results still beat Expedia's prediction for earnings of 16 cents to 19 cents a share, which it had issued last quarter.
Also reporting Monday evening, chipmakers Altera and Vitesse Semiconductor saw their shares rise despite slumping sales. Altera gained 22 cents to $20.20 after it disappointed investors with its third quarter and said sales will decline again in its fourth quarter. Vitesse picked up 43 cents to $9.99, though it also announced slumping sales. Management said the fourth-quarter loss was in line with diminished Wall Street expectations and its own warning, as sales tumbled 73 percent.
Among other actively traded shares, Intel lost 30 cents to $25, Cisco Systems was off 42 cents to $16.41, Oracle rose 6 cents to $15.01, and Microsoft rose 27 cents to $60.43.
AOL Time Warner gained $1.24 to $32.89, and Yahoo lost 20 cents to $11.58.
Staff and Reuters contributed to this report.