Wall Street dips as investors await US-China trade progress

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - US stock indexes moved slightly lower on Thursday (Nov 21) as investors moved to the sidelines with mixed messages and no concrete signs of progress on US-China relations.

The US House of Representatives passed two Bills to back protesters in Hong Kong and send a warning to China about human rights, a measure that angered Beijing.

But China still invited top US trade negotiators for a new round of face-to-face talks in Beijing, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unidentified sources.

This was a day after stocks sold off on a report that a Phase 1 US-China deal was not likely to happen this year.

As a result, investors were wary of putting further bets on a trade deal and keeping in mind that stocks are still near record highs.

"The fulcrum of this optimism see-saw is the prospects for the phase 1 trade agreement. Investors are pulling petals from a daisy saying, 'It'll happen this year, it won't,'" said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research in New York.

"They are basically saying 'We've pushed this as far as we can.' Valuations appear stretched at 18.5 times forward earnings compared with the 20-year average forward P/E Of 16.5," he said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 54.80 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 27,766.29, the S&P 500 lost 4.92 points, or 0.16 per cent, to 3,103.54, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 20.52 points, or 0.24 per cent, to 8,506.21.

While the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits was unexpectedly unchanged at a five-month high last week, suggesting some labour market softening, US home sales increased more than expected in October and house prices rose at the fastest pace in more than two years amid lower mortgage rates and a supply shortage.

Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset Capital Management in Chicago, said there was not enough surprise in the data to generate a decisive market move.

"This is a market in search of a catalyst," he said.

Three of the S&P 500's 11 major industry sectors rose, with energy showing the biggest gain at 1.6 per cent as oil prices gained on hopes that OPEC and its allies were likely to extend output cuts until mid-2020.

Real estate showed the biggest decline at 1.4 per cent, while technology was the biggest drag on the benchmark index with a 0.5 per cent drop.

Shares in TD Ameritrade Holding Corp surged 16.9 per cent after CNBC reported bigger rival Charles Schwab Corp was in talks to buy the discount brokerage. Schwab's shares gained 7.3 per cent. Rival E*Trade Financial lost 9.3 per cent.

Tiffany & Co gained about 2.6 per cent after a Reuters report that LVMH persuaded the jewellery chain to allow it to access its books following a raised bid.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.55-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.37-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 11 new 52-week highs and four new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 52 new highs and 88 new lows.

On US exchanges, 6.83 billion shares changed hands, compared with the 7.05 billion average for the last 20 sessions.