By Caroline Valetkevitch
(Reuters) - U.S. stocks retreated on Thursday after three days of gains as oil prices fell and global growth worries drove investors to safer assets like bonds.
Energy shares <.SPNY> declined 0.5 percent as crude oil prices <CLc1> <LCOc1> also snapped a three-day streak of gains, while the more defensive S&P utilities index <.SPLRCU> rose 0.9 percent, leading sector gains.
"It was a cautious tone investors took, investing in utilities and other high-dividend stocks and selling some more volatile sectors and securities, like small caps," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York.
The Russell 2000 index <.RUT> was down 0.7 percent.
"I think investors are pointing to the move in stocks that we've had since mid-February as perhaps being extended from a technical standpoint, and that caused some concern," he said.
Still, the day's losses were slight, and the S&P 500 remains less than 16 points below its record closing high of 2,130.82. The index is up about 17 percent from its Feb. 11 low for the year.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> ended down 19.86 points, or 0.11 percent, to 17,985.19, the S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 3.64 points, or 0.17 percent, to 2,115.48 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> dropped 16.03 points, or 0.32 percent, to 4,958.62.
The S&P 500 record could fall in coming days, said Bruce Zaro, chief technical strategist at Bolton Global Asset Management in Boston.
"A start of that move was that breakout (above) 2,120," earlier this week, he said. "I would expect some follow-through in the next days and weeks."
Thursday marked the fifth day in the row that more than 200 companies on the New York Stock Exchange hit 52-week highs, the first such streak since January 2015.
Federal Reserve officials meet next Tuesday and Wednesday, and the U.S. central bank is expected to leave rates unchanged. Despite surprisingly weak monthly jobs data last Friday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen boosted sentiment Monday by painting a mostly upbeat picture of the economy.
U.S. bond yields hit their lowest since February amid concerns about global growth.
Bank shares led the day's decline, with the S&P financial index <.SPSY> ending down 0.8 percent.
Shares of Tailored Brands <TLRD.N> dropped 20.5 percent to $12.34 after the apparel retailer posted a quarterly profit well below analysts' estimates.
About 6.1 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 6.8 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,868 to 1,148, for a 1.63-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,950 issues fell and 868 advanced for a 2.25-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 49 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 79 new highs and 30 new lows.
(Editing by Nick Zieminski and James Dalgleish)