Wall Street muted on US-China doubts

Sinead Carew
US stock index futures opened slightly lower

The S&P 500 and Dow indexes trod water on Thursday as mixed headlines on US-China relations and a diplomatic row over the Hong Kong protests added to uncertainty over the timing of a "phase one" trade deal.

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 which angered Beijing.

But China has invited top US trade negotiators for a new round of face-to-face talks in Beijing, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources, adding Beijing hopes the round of talks can take place before next Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday in the United States.

This was the day after stocks sold off on a report that a Phase 1 US-China trade deal was not likely to happen this year. As a result investors were sticking to the sidelines for fear of missing out if relations were to improve, but keeping in mind that Wall Street's indexes were 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.

At 2:47 pm ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 6.89 points, or 0.02 per cent, to 27,814.2, the S&P 500 lost 0.61 points, or 0.02 per cent, to 3,107.85 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 8.62 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 8,518.11.

Six out of the S&P 500's 11 major industry sectors rose on the day with energy showing the biggest gain at 1.4 per cent as oil prices rose on hopes that the OPEC and its allies were likely to extend output cuts until mid-2020..

Real estate showed the biggest decline at 1 per cent and technology was the biggest drag on the benchmark index.

Shares in TD Ameritrade Holding Corp surged 18 per cent after CNBC reported bigger rival Charles Schwab Corp was in talks to buy the discount brokerage. Schwab's shares gained 6.8 per cent.

Tiffany & Co gained about 2.3 per cent after a Reuters report that LVMH persuaded the jewellery chain to allow it to access its books following a raised bid.

Economic data was mixed on Thursday. The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits was unexpectedly unchanged at a five-month high last week, suggesting some softening in the labour market.

But 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 shortage of properties for sale.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.44-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.26-to-1 ratio favoured decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 11 new 52-week highs and 3 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 46 new highs and 82 new lows.