* S&P 500, Nasdaq ease off a 9th quarter of gains
* ADP data misses estimates, raising payroll concerns
* Indexes down: Dow 0.4 pct, S&P 0.4 pct, Nasdaq 0.6 pct (Updates to early afternoon)
By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK, April 1 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks eased on Wednesday as a pair of weaker-than-expected economic indicators spurred concerns over economic growth ahead of Friday’s jobs report.
Leading the decline were some of the sectors with the strongest gains in the first quarter. The S&P health care sector fell 1.6 percent. It was the strongest sector in the first quarter, appreciating 6.2 percent.
The consumer discretionary index, another big first-quarter gainer, fell 0.9 percent.
The ADP National Employment Report showed that U.S. private employers added 189,000 jobs last month, well below economists’ expectations for 225,000 jobs. A separate report showed the pace of U.S. manufacturing growth fell in March to its slowest in almost two years.
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. The inability of market participants to trade off that report could generate some volatility going into the holiday.
“We had some disappointing data today and so the initial reaction was to sell stocks,” said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.
But the strong dollar, which has eroded the profits of some multinational companies, continues to be a headwind, he said, raising uncertainty on “how the earnings season is going to play out.”
At 2:04 p.m. EDT (1804 GMT), the Dow Jones industrial average fell 71.63 points, or 0.4 percent, to 17,704.49, the S&P 500 lost 8.25 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,059.64 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 29.06 points, or 0.59 percent, to 4,871.82.
Among early reporters for the earnings season, shares of Monsanto were up 3.5 percent at $116.42 after its results and outlook. Those gains, and a rise in shares of energy companies, helped limit the drop in the S&P 500. ConocoPhillips , up 1.6 percent at $63.25.
Data due through the week will be studied for indications on whether economic growth is brisk enough to encourage the U.S. Federal Reserve to begin raising interest rates sooner than expected.
Sears Holdings Corp rose 3 percent to $42.61 after it said it would raise more than $2.5 billion by selling stores to a real estate investment trust it is setting up, in the latest move to shore up its finances.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,567 to 1,421, for a 1.10-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,546 issues fell and 1,141 advanced for a 1.35-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.
The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting 5 new 52-week highs and 4 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 47 new highs and 48 new lows. (Additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Bernadette Baum)