* Banks start reporting results on Thursday
* Financial stocks weigh most on S&P, defensive sectors up
* S&P 500 falls below 50-day moving average; VIX, gold rise
* Indexes down: Dow 0.35 pct, S&P 0.43 pct, Nasdaq 0.51 pct
(Updates to early afternoon)
By Yashaswini Swamynathan
April 12 U.S. stocks drifted lower on Wednesday
as investors sought shelter in safe-haven assets amid lingering
geopolitical worries, while keeping the upcoming earnings season
The United States launched missiles at a Syrian airfield
last week to retaliate a deadly chemical attack on civilians.
The strikes pushed President Donald Trump, who came to power in
January calling for warmer ties with Syria's ally Russia, and
his administration into confrontation with Moscow.
Investors are concerned that these developments could
distract Trump from pursuing his pro-business policies such as
tax cuts, simpler regulations and higher infrastructure
spending, promises that have powered Wall Street to record highs
since his election in November.
The S&P 500 fell below its 50-day moving average, while gold
and VIX, Wall Street's fear gauge, rose to their highest
levels in five months.
At 12:35 p.m. ET (1635 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial
Average was down 72.27 points, or 0.35 percent, at
20,579.03 and the S&P 500 was down 10.19 points, or 0.43
percent, at 2,343.59. The indexes were on track for their worst
one-day percentage decline in over three weeks.
The Nasdaq Composite was down 30.18 points, or 0.51
percent, at 5,836.60.
The worst hit were financials and industrials, sectors which
have outperformed the broader market in the post-election rally.
The S&P 500 financial sector was off 0.83 percent,
but was the biggest drag on the index due to a drop in bank
heavyweights including Wells Fargo and Bank of America
Industrials were off 1 percent, weighed down by
General Electric, Union Pacific Corp and Boeing
"Technically, we are due for a breather and if the earnings
season disappoints, it could provide the correction that we
need," said Josh Jalinski, president of Jalinski Advisory Group.
Wells Fargo, along with Citigroup and JPMorgan
, will unofficially kick-off the first-quarter earnings
season on Thursday, which will also be the last trading day of
the week ahead of the Good Friday holiday.
Eight of the 11 major S&P sectors were lower.
Utilities, consumer staples and telecom
services, defensive sectors with slow but predictable
growth, were up.
Tractor Supply was the biggest percentage loser on
the S&P, down nearly 7 percent following a profit warning from
the specialty retailer.
Delta Air Lines was up 1.3 percent at $45.84,
boosted by a better-than-expected quarterly profit and an upbeat
forecast for current-quarter passenger unit revenue.
(Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by