Wall St wavers as investors eye trade talks, growth fears

Wall Street see-sawed on Monday, rarely straying far from opening levels as investors eyed ongoing US-China trade talks, potential congressional gridlock and a diminished 2019 earnings outlook.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq eked out nominal gains while the blue chip Dow edged lower.

Both Beijing and Washington expressed optimism about trade negotiations between the world’s two largest economies, even as a US Navy mission in the disputed South China Sea provoked China’s anger.

In Washington, congressional leaders attempted to reach an agreement on border security funding in a bid to avert another government shutdown.

With two-thirds of S&P 500 companies having reported, the fourth-quarter earnings season approached the home stretch. So far, 71.2 per cent have posted better-than-expected profits. Fourth-quarter earnings growth is now estimated at 16.5 per cent, up from 15.8 per cent at the beginning of the year.

But first-quarter 2019 profit growth expectations have diminished. Analysts now see the year starting with quarterly earnings dropping 0.2 per cent from last year, which would mark the first contraction since the second quarter of 2016.

“It speaks to concerns about the global slowdown that people are growing more aware of,” said Robert Pavlik, chief investment strategist and senior portfolio manager at SlateStone Wealth LLC in New York. “It’s the effects of tariffs and a somewhat tighter monetary policy. Guidance has been a mixed bag and trade uncertainty is the major connecting issue,” Pavlik added.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 53.22 points, or 0.21 per cent, to 25,053.11, the S&P 500 gained 1.92 points, or 0.07 per cent, to 2,709.8 and the Nasdaq Composite added 9.71 points, or 0.13 per cent, to 7,307.91.

Losses on Monday were concentrated. Of the 11 major S&P sectors, only communications services, utilities and healthcare closed in the red.

Tariff-sensitive industrial stocks provided

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