Wall Street inches higher as Dec. 15 tariff deadline looms


NEW YORK (Reuters) – Wall Street eked out slight gains on Thursday as investors waited for concrete news on a hoped-for interim trade deal between the United States and China before a new round of tariffs scheduled to kick in on Dec. 15.

Tech stocks led all three major U.S. stock averages marginally into the black following upbeat statements from President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that the U.S.-China trade negotiations are “on track” and “going well.”

Markets have been whipsawed in recent days by conflicting reports on whether the world’s two largest economies would be able to arrive at a “phase one” agreement prior to Dec. 15, when a new round of tariffs on Chinese imports is expected to take effect.

“Investors are trying to calibrate things,” said Matthew Keator, managing partner in the Keator Group, a wealth management firm in Lenox, Massachusetts. “The markets are going to toggle up and down until we see what happens on Dec. 15th to get some sort of clarity in terms of how to move forward in the near term.”

Market participants appeared to shrug off the drama unfolding in Washington as the U.S. House of Representatives prepared to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

“The market has become desensitized a bit to the partisanship that’s been going on,” said Keator, while adding that “uncertainty is not something the market enjoys.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 28.01 points, or 0.1%, to 27,677.79, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 4.67 points, or 0.15%, to 3,117.43 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 4.03 points, or 0.05%, to 8,570.70.

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, eight closed higher.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in New York, U.S., December 5, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Materials stocks .SPLRCM were the biggest winners, while energy .SPNY suffered the largest percentage drop.

Nike Inc (NKE.N) gained 2.2% following Goldman Sachs’ upgrade of the sportswear maker’s stock to “buy” from “neutral.”

Kroger Co (KR.N) shares fell 3.0% after the supermarket chain missed Wall Street earnings estimates, hurt by stiff competition from Walmart Inc (WMT.N) and Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O).

Online craft retailer Etsy (ETSY.O) dipped 2.5% on a downgrade to “underweight” by Morgan Stanley.

SecureWorks Corp (SCWX.O) jumped 29.4%, its best day ever, after the cyber security firm posted a surprise third-quarter profit.

Sage Therapeutics Inc (SAGE.O) tumbled 59.7% after its depression drug failed in a late-stage study.

Economic data showed a shrinking trade deficit, a drop in jobless claims and a rebound in factory orders, suggesting a still-robust, if slowing, U.S. economy.

Investors now look to Friday’s employment report from the U.S. Labor Department, which is expected to show nonfarm payrolls increased by 180,000 in November.

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Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.15-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.00-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 14 new 52-week highs and 3 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 54 new highs and 64 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 6.42 billion shares, compared with the 6.71 billion average over the last 20 trading days.

Reporting by Stephen Culp in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler

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