U.S. Stocks Ease

U.S. stocks eased on Wednesday as weaker-than-expected data spurred concerns over economic growth ahead of Friday’s jobs report and first-quarter earnings.  Leading the day’s declines for a second day was the S&P health care sector .SPXHC, which fell 1.2 percent. Health care was the strongest sector in the first quarter, appreciating 6.2 percent.

Shares of automakers also declined after reporting March sales. Shares of General Motors (GM.N) were down 2 percent at $36.74 while Ford (F.N) was down 1.4 percent at $15.91 as sales dipped at both companies.  U.S. private employers added the smallest number of workers in more than a year in March and factory activity hit a near two-year low, fresh signs that economic growth slowed significantly in the first quarter.

The reports precede Friday’s jobs data, the most widely watched indicator of the week, though that arrives on Good Friday when the stock market will be closed.  Investors also are anxious ahead of the start of first-quarter earnings, which strategists say could be hurt by the rising dollar’s impact on multinational companies.