Investors shift focus to trade talks

Wall Street capped a day of mostly listless trading with a mixed finish Monday as gains in industrial companies, banks and energy stocks outweighed losses elsewhere.

Small-company stocks fared better than the rest of the market as investors shifted focus away from the tail end of a relatively strong corporate earnings season and looked ahead to trade talks between the U.S. and China later this week.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is leading a delegation set to meet with Chinese officials on Thursday and Friday. The talks are aimed at resolving a trade war that threatens to stunt global economic growth, in part by raising prices on goods for consumers and companies. The situation could get worse when a truce on tariff increases expires in early March.

“The problem is, if this trade issue goes on long enough, it will metastasize itself to our economy, “said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 53.22 points, or 0.2 percent, to 25,053.11. The S&P 500 index rose 1.92 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,709.80. The Nasdaq composite added 9.71 points, or 0.1 percent, to 7,307.90. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks gained 12.59 points, or 0.8 percent, to 1,518.98. European markets finished higher.

U.S. indexes spent much of the day wavering between small gains and losses on a light day of company earnings news.

Companies have mostly reported better-than-expected earnings for the last three months of last year. Still, concerns have been building about whether profits can keep growing this year, especially considering companies’ strong gains in 2018 after a sweeping corporate tax cut.

So far, 66.4 percent of companies in the S&P 500 have reported earnings, with 69 percent of those beating analysts’ forecasts. Earnings growth has been 14.5 percent for the quarter. But

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