Worries That China Trade Talks Are Stalling Weigh on Stocks

NEW YORK (AP) -

Major U.S. stock indexes closed mostly lower Wednesday after wavering for much of the day between small gains and losses.

The downbeat finish extended the market’s mild losses from a day earlier. Even so, the benchmark S&P 500 index is on track to end the month with a gain of more than 3 percent, extending the market’s rebound over the last two months after a steep slide late last year.

Health care, communications and technology companies took the heaviest losses Wednesday, while financial, industrial and energy stocks notched gains.

The market had veered lower early in the day after comments from a key U.S. trade negotiator stoked doubt over how much progress was being made on resolving the trade war between the U.S. and China.

The news overshadowed a mix of corporate earnings reports. All told, the S&P 500 index dropped 1.52 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,792.38. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gave up 72.82 points, or 0.3 percent, to 25,985.16. The Nasdaq composite gained 5.21 points, or 0.1 percent, to 7,554.51.

Smaller companies fared better than the broader market. The Russell 2000 index picked up 3.57 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,581.05. Major indexes in Europe declined.

Stocks headed broadly lower in early trading Wednesday after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told a panel of lawmakers that “much still needs to be done” before the U.S. and China can reach an agreement. China has offered to make major purchases of U.S. goods, such as natural gas, in a bid to resolve the conflict. Lighthizer said such steps wouldn’t be enough.

Meanwhile, investors continued to size up the latest batch of corporate earnings reports.

Weight Watchers plunged 34.5 percent after the weight-loss program operator gave investors a surprisingly weak forecast. The company did not sign up as many subscribers as it hoped this winter.

Best Buy notched the biggest gain in the S&P 500, vaulting 14.1 percent after reporting that its year-end sales bucked a downward trend for retailers.

The electronics retailer’s profit beat forecasts, but more importantly a key retail sales measure continued growing during a tough quarter for the industry. The company also raised its quarterly dividend by 11 percent and its board of directors approved a $3 billion stock buyback program.

Other retailers also rose. Nordstrom added 3.7 percent. Kohl’s gained 2.5 percent.

Energy stocks finished higher, helped by rising oil prices. Concho Resources added 2.7 percent.

U.S. crude climbed 2.6 percent to settle at $56.94 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 1.8 percent to close at $66.39 a barrel in London.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.69 percent from 2.63 percent late Tuesday.

The dollar declined to 110.04 yen from 110.51 yen on Tuesday. The euro weakened to $1.1370 from $1.1395.

Gold fell 0.5 percent to $1,321.20 an ounce. Silver dropped 1 percent to $15.77 an ounce. Copper rose 0.4 percent to $2.96 a pound.

In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline jumped 3 percent to $1.63 a gallon. Heating oil rose 1.2 percent to $2.02 a gallon. Natural gas gained 0.1 percent to $2.80 per 1,000 cubic feet.