A fall in crude-oil prices and a stronger dollar also contributed to the shaky start to the year, which was triggered by weak Chinese economic data on Monday.
In a bid to stabilize its markets, the People’s Bank of China on Tuesday injected $20 billion into the financial system.
“Fears of a global recession are valid and fears about China are valid, and they will put some downward pressure on stocks in general, so I do expect 2016 to be negative, but not by much,” said Mohannad Aama, managing director at Beam Capital Management in New York.
Apple’s shares were down 2.5 percent at $102.68 after the Nikkei reported that the iPhone maker was expected to cut production of its 6S and 6S Plus models.
The stock was the biggest drag on the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, while Goldman Sachs weighed the most on the Dow.
At 12:30 p.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 86.84 points, or 0.51 percent, at 17,062.1, the S&P 500 was down 5.71 points, or 0.28 percent, at 2,006.95 and the Nasdaq Composite index was down 23.04 points, or 0.47 percent, at 4,880.05.
Six of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower, led by a 0.87 percent decline in the energy sector. Exxon and Chevron weighed the most.
Gilead rose 0.9 percent to $98.89 after its experimental hepatitis B drug was found safer than but as effective as its approved treatment, Viread.
Eli Lilly reversed course to trade up 1 percent at $83.66 after the drugmaker said its diabetes treatment grabbed market share in the fourth quarter.
First Solar was up 6.8 percent at $71.20 after Goldman Sachs upgraded the stock to “buy”.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,538 to 1,453. On the Nasdaq, 1,529 issues fell and 1,178 rose.
The S&P 500 index showed three new 52-week highs and five new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 14 new highs and 43 lows.