Wall St. Treads Water Ahead of Trump-Xi Trade Talk

(Reuters) -
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U.S. stocks were trading flat on Friday as investors stayed away from making bets ahead of a much-awaited meeting between the United States and China that could decide the course of a bitter trade dispute between the two economies.

Markets have been roiled by conflicting headlines in the run-up to the high stakes meeting but found relief after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he would be surprised if Saturday’s dinner between U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping “wasn’t a success.”

President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was close to making a deal but was not sure if he wants to do it, while news that Trump’s hardline trade adviser Peter Navarro will attend the meeting added to worries.

“Market wants to hear something good coming out of the meeting and anything short of that is going to be viewed negatively,” said J.J. Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade in Chicago.

Beijing hopes to persuade Trump to abandon plans to hike tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25 percent in January from 10 percent.

“The next big thing that would cause the markets to rally would be a de-escalation of the trade war and until that point the markets will follow a bit of a holding pattern,” said Rick Meckler, partner, Cherry Lane Investments, in New Vernon, New Jersey.

Dovish comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and the latest Fed minutes have helped the benchmark S&P 500 rise nearly 4 percent this week, setting it on course to post its biggest percentage gain in nine months.

At 11:21 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 39.15 points, or 0.15 percent, at 25,299.69, the S&P 500 was up 3.01 points, or 0.11 percent, at 2,740.77 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 15.29 points, or 0.21 percent, at 7,288.38.

Energy stocks fell 0.69 percent, leading declines among the major S&P sectors, as oil prices dropped more than 1.5 percent.

However, airlines stocks got a boost from lower oil prices, with the Dow Jones Airlines index rising 2 percent.

General Electric shares fell 5.7 percent after The Wall Street Journal reported that several former employees told the U.S. securities regulator the company failed to acknowledge worsening results in the insurance business.

Marriott International Inc dropped 4.9 percent after the company said a guest reservation database of its Starwood Hotel brand was breached, potentially exposing information on about 500 million guests.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.17-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.15-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 19 new 52-week highs and four new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 28 new highs and 53 new lows.