Stocks edge lower on Wall Street over China trade anxiety

Stocks closed modestly lower on Wall Street Thursday after a mostly listless day of trading handed the market its third straight drop.

Losses in technology stocks, companies that rely on consumer spending and other sectors outweighed gains elsewhere in the market.

Energy sector stocks were the biggest winners, benefiting from another pickup in crude oil prices. Health care and communication services companies also rose.

Investors have turned cautious this week amid concerns the United States and China will fail to make a trade deal before the year is over.

The world’s largest economies have been negotiating a resolution to their trade war ahead of new tariffs set to hit key consumer goods on Dec. 15. Investors have been hoping for a deal before that happens, as the tariffs would increase prices on smartphones, laptops, and many common household goods.


“That Dec. 15 deadline on tariffs still weighs on the market,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. “The market needs a sense that there won’t be an escalation in the trade war.”

The S&P 500 index dropped 4.92 points, or 0.2 percent, to 3,103.54. The Dow Jones average fell 54.80 points, or 0.2 percent, to 27,766.29.

The Nasdaq slid 20.52 points, or 0.2 percent, to 8,506.21. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks lost 7.65 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,583.96.

Major stock indexes in Europe also finished lower.

The latest round of selling extended the losses for US stocks this week. The benchmark S&P 500 index is on track to snap a six-week winning streak.

Optimism that Washington and Beijing were nearing a “phase one” trade deal helped pave the way for gains in the market in recent weeks, including a string of all-time highs for the major stock indexes. Stocks have receded from those highs the past few days as investors have grown more doubtful about a trade resolution.


The doubts have persisted even after an attempt by China’s Commerce Ministry to bat away rumors that the talks were in trouble. A ministry spokesman said Beijing was committed to continuing discussions on core concerns. The Wall Street Journal also reported that China’s chief negotiator has called for more face-to-face negotiations.

Stocks are likely to remain choppy and risky as long as the trade war and threat of new tariffs looms over Wall Street, said Barry Bannister, head of institutional equity strategy at Stifel.

“We don’t want to see tariffs on consumer goods that get passed on directly to retail purchasers because they’re the last leg on which the economy is standing right now,” Bannister said.

Bannister warned that the market could be in for a significant decline before the end of the year if the United States and China can’t make progress. He also said the risk of a larger recession has not disappeared.

The resurgent trade worries have cut into some of the market’s recent gains this week, though the major stock indexes remain near their all-time highs.

“Markets need to pause, they need to consolidate,” Krosby said. “And by just being flat, by pulling back a little bit, that’s actually ultimately healthy for the market.’’

Technology stocks took some of the heaviest losses Thursday. Many chip makers and companies that make hardware rely on China for sales and supply chains. Advanced Micro Devices slid 3.6 percent and Lam Research fell 3.7 percent.


Consumer product makers also fell broadly. Kraft Heinz dropped 2.7 percent.

Exxon Mobil rose 2.4 percent, part of a broad rally in energy stocks as the price of US crude oil climbed 2.8 percent. Benchmark crude oil rose $1.57 to settle at $58.58 a barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, gained $1.57 to $63.97.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 1.78 percent from 1.74 percent late Wednesday. The rise in bond yields, which drive up the interest rates banks charge for mortgages and other loans, helped boost financial sector stocks. Bank of America added 0.5 percent.

Traders welcomed a batch of deal-related news.

Tiffany jumped 2.6 percent following a report that LVMH would raise its bid for the company. TD Ameritrade soared 16.9 percent after a report that Charles Schwab was in talks to acquire it.

PayPal slipped 1.5 percent after saying it would buy Honey Science, which helps people find coupons and discounts while they shop online.

Retailers continued to report a mixed batch of earnings. Macy’s fell 2.3 percent after cutting its profit and sales forecast. Investors rewarded Victoria’s Secret owner L Brands with a 10.1 percent gain after the company met Wall Street’s profit expectations.

Several other well-known retailers will report earnings later Thursday, including Nordstrom and Gap.