In meeting minutes from its late January meeting, the Fed revealed a variety of opinions among policy makers concerning its asset purchasing program. The range of options under discussion included support for ending the program before a previously announced unemployment benchmark was met to continuing with the purchases past that point.
The minutes also described the recovery as slowing down.
In a report released early Wednesday, the U.S. Commerce Department said housing starts reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 890,000 in January, down from 973,000 in December and lower than the consensus prediction of 925,000.
By close of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average gave up 108.13 points or 0.77 percent to 13,927.54.
The Standard and Poor's 500 lost 18.99 points, or 1.24 percent, to 1,511.95 points.
The Nasdaq composite shed 49.19 points, or 1.53 percent, to 3,164.41 points.
On the New York Stock Exchange, 718 stocks advanced and 2,351 declined on a volume of 4.1 billion shares traded.
The 10-year U.S. treasury fell 1/32 to yield 2.017 percent.
Against the dollar the euro fell to $1.3285 from Tuesday's $1.3389. Against the yen, the dollar was higher at 93.69 yen from 93.57 yen.
In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 closed at 11,468.28 points, adding 95.94 points or 0.84 percent.
In London, the FTSE 100 index added 0.15 percent, 9.64 points, to 6,388.71.
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