Stocks split as uncertainty reigns in US-China trade talks

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks were split on Monday as uncertainty continues to hang over U.S.-China trade talks, or at least over investors' perception of them.

The stock market has been rallying for five weeks in part on optimism that the United States and China are nearing a stopgap deal to calm their dispute. But President Donald Trump said over the weekend that reports about U.S. willingness to lift tariffs were "incorrect," only two days after a Chinese official said both sides agreed to rollbacks if talks progress.

Stocks sank as soon as trading began Monday, and the S&P 500 dropped as much as 0.6% from its record level. But indexes pared their losses as the day progressed, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average turned positive in the afternoon.

A still-strong job market, interest-rate cuts by the Federal Reserve and better corporate earnings in the summer than analysts expected have all contributed to the nearly 9% leap for the S&P 500 since late August. But stocks lately have been trading on every scintilla of news related to U.S.-China trade negotiations.

Stocks in the financial and energy industries have been generally rising since Trump said last month that the U.S. and China were close to "Phase One" of a trade deal. But these so-called "cyclical" stocks, whose profits are closely tied to the economic cycle, were among Monday's losers. Such sudden snaps in movement are frustrating for investors who prefer looking at the longer term.

"The market is myopically focused on the next minute," said Michael Liss, senior portfolio manager at American Century Investments.

"If I own Chevron or Total, which I do, and we don't get a 'Phase One' signing before the end of the year, I'm not going to sell those stocks," he said. "I just don't think that over a three- or five-year time frame, oil demand is going to be dented because of that" even if it "flies in the face of everyone selling cyclicals because we don't have a trade deal."

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 was down 0.2%, as of 2:45 p.m. Eastern time.

The Dow rose 15 points, or 0.1%, to 27,697, and the Nasdaq was down 0.1%.

Trading was closed in the Treasury bond market in observance of Veterans Day.

DEFENSE FIRST: Real-estate stocks in the S&P 500 rose 0.4% for the biggest gain among the 11 sectors that make up the index.

The group pays relatively big dividends, and investors have often flocked to them and other "defensive" investments when worries are high that the trade war will hurt the economy.

WEEK AHEAD: Low interest rates have been a big driver for the stock market's rally, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will give testimony on Capitol Hill about the economy on Wednesday. Most investors expect the Fed to keep interest rates on hold for now after cutting them three times since the summer.

The Labor Department will report October data for the Consumer Price Index on Wednesday and for the Producer Price Index on Thursday. The Commerce Department will report retail sales data for October on Friday.

Earnings season is close to complete, and nearly 90% of the companies in the S&P 500 have reported their profits for the July-through-September quarter, according to FactSet.

DEAL CHATTER: Walgreens Boots Alliance rose 4.6% after Bloomberg reported that private equity giant KKR is interested in buying the drugstore chain. Media reports have fueled speculation since last week about a potential Walgreens sale.

OVERSEAS: Asian markets fell. Hong Kong's Hang Seng slid 2.6% as tensions intensified between police and political protesters.

China's Shanghai Composite index declined 1.8%, Japan's Nikkei 225 lost 0.3% and South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.6%.

European markets were mixed. Britain's FTSE 100 index slipped 0.4%, France's CAC 40 added 0.1% and Germany's DAX lost 0.2%.

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