US stocks edge lower amid questions on trade talks

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on March 4, 2019.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on March 4, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Wall Street stocks finished slightly lower on Tuesday (March 5) following a meandering session as investors sought signs on US-China trade talks and the US economic outlook.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.1 per cent to close the session at 25,806.63.

The broad-based S&P 500 also shed 0.1 per cent to end at 2,789.65, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index slipped less than 0.1 per cent to 7,576.36.

After a strong start to 2019, US stocks have been steady but unspectacular the last two weeks as Beijing and Washington have appeared to be inching towards a deal to resolve their trade friction.

After the initial optimism, analysts on Tuesday took a more cautious view of the progress in the tariff battle, with some arguing that the gains already have been figured into valuations or questioning whether an agreement will truly resolve the impasse.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Supply Management reported that US services sector activity jumped in February, but the report came on the heels of other data that suggest the US economy is slowing.

"The market is trying to react to a mixed bag of things," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National. "How much is priced in in terms of good news in China trade and just how much is the economy slowing domestically."

Among individual companies, retailer Target gained 4.6 percent after reporting a solid 5.3 per cent increase in comparable sales over the holiday-centered fourth quarter.

Another retailer, Kohl's, shot up 7.3 per cent after fourth-quarter comparable sales topped analyst expectations.

General Electric dropped 4.7 per cent as chief executive Larry Culp signalled that the company will continue to face near-term cash flow challenges due to its slumping power business.