Wall Street muted on doubts over progress in U.S.-China trade deal

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By Manas Mishra and Uday Sampath Kumar

(Reuters) – The S&P 500 and Dow indexes treaded water on Thursday as mixed headlines on U.S-China trade relations and a diplomatic row over the Hong Kong protests added to uncertainty over the timing of a “phase one” deal.

Trade talks came under pressure late on Wednesday when the U.S. 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.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign them into law.

“The market is recognizing that this tariff tiff is going to remain in place … for a very long time because there are just some extraordinary philosophical differences,” said Hugh Anderson, managing director at HighTower Advisors in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Stocks recovered from the previous session to open flat, helped by a report that the United States could delay tariffs even if a deal was not reached by Dec. 15, when tariffs kick in on goods including items such as electronics and Christmas decorations.

The S&P 500 and Dow were set for their longest run of losses since early August, while the Nasdaq was on course for its biggest two-day fall in over a month.

All three major indexes have hit a series of record highs this month, rallying on optimism around a “phase one” trade deal and a largely better-than-expected earnings season.

At 1:01 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average () was down 8.55 points, or 0.03%, at 27,812.54, the S&P 500 () was down 2.45 points, or 0.08%, at 3,106.01. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite () was down 18.35 points, or 0.22%, at 8,508.38.

The tech sector was the biggest drag on the benchmark index, while the energy sector was among the few in the positive as oil prices rose on hopes that the OPEC and its allies were likely to extend output cuts until mid-2020.

Shares in TD Ameritrade Holding Corp (O:) surged 21% after CNBC reported bigger rival Charles Schwab Corp (N:) was in talks to buy the discount brokerage. Schwab’s shares gained 8%.

Tiffany & Co (N:) gained about 3% after a Reuters report that LVMH (PA:) persuaded the jewelry chain to allow it to access its books following a raised bid.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.52-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and for a 1.28-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 10 new 52-week highs and three new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 41 new highs and 74 new lows.

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