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Stocks wobble after Trump’s top economic adviser departs

Associated Press 

“What does it mean for trade?’’ That question continued to guide Wall Street Wednesday, leading stocks to a mixed finish after President Trump’s top economic adviser resigned after opposing the administration’s planned tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

Stocks fell in the morning as investors reacted to the departure of Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who was seen as a proponent of free trade. The losses deepened after Trump suggested on Twitter that the United States may impose penalties on China as part of intellectual property disputes. The Dow Jones industrial average fell as much as 349 points.

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Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, was known to disagree with the tariff plan, which has also drawn criticism from Republicans in Congress and much of corporate America.

The market bounced back late in the afternoon after the White House said some countries, including Canada and Mexico, might be exempt from the tariffs. That suggested a lighter touch that won’t affect the global economy and corporate profits as much as a broader tariff would, and wouldn’t result in as much retaliation from other countries.

Industrial companies like Caterpillar and Boeing whipsawed on the news. Technology and health care companies ended higher, while energy companies fell with oil prices.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell as much as 1 percent during the day but finished with a loss of less than 0.1 percent, at 2,726.80. The Dow Jones industrial average declined 0.3 percent, to 24,801.36.

The Nasdaq Composite gained 0.3 percent, to 7,396.65. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks added 0.8 percent, to 1,574.53. It has fared better than the S&P and Dow over the last week as the companies on that index are far more US-focused and would stand to lose less from a flare-up in global trade tensions.

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Jack Daniel’s maker Brown-Forman sank after CEO Paul Varga said his company ‘‘could be an unfortunate and unintended victim’’ of more hostile trade. Varga said the company has been selling more lower-priced liquors in Europe. The company also forecast a smaller-than-expected annual profit. Its stock dropped 5.6 percent. Motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson slid 1 percent.

Discount retailer Dollar Tree’s fourth quarter results disappointed investors, as did forecasts for the current year. The stock tumbled 14.5 percent. Competitor Ross Stores lost 6.3 percent.

Benchmark US crude dropped $1.45, or 2.3 percent, to $61.15 a barrel in New York after the Energy Department reported US oil production rose last week. Brent crude fell $1.45, or 2.2 percent, to $64.34 in London. Exxon Mobil stock tumbled 2.5 percent, and Hess lost 4.1 percent.

On Twitter, Trump said the government is ‘‘acting swiftly on intellectual property theft,’’ investigating whether Chinese intellectual property rules are ‘‘unreasonable or discriminatory.’’

Bond prices edged higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.88 percent from 2.89 percent.