S&P 500 Slips, but Blue Chip Stocks Eke Out Gain
By Jessica Menton and Georgi Kantchev
The S&P 500 snapped a three-day winning streak, as investors continued to weigh global trade tensions and concerns about slowing economic growth.
The broad index ticked down 2.44 points, or 0.1%, to 2808.48, as gains in financial and tech shares were offset by declines in material stocks. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite lost 12.49 points, or 0.2%, to 7630.91, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average edged up 7.05 points, or less than 0.1%, to 25709.94. All three major averages are at least 1% higher so far this week after suffering their worst week since December.
Mounting signs of a global economic slowdown have kept this year's rally in check lately, though progress in the trade talks between Washington and Beijing and dovish messaging by central banks have helped stocks recover from steep falls in the fourth quarter.
Stock indexes have moved in a narrow range in recent weeks after a strong run-up in the first two months of the year, fueled by a cautious stance from the Federal Reserve. Since then, the S&P 500, which has rebounded 12% in 2019, has struggled to stay above 2800, a resistance level.
With fourth-quarter earnings season in the rearview mirror, Thomas Martin, senior portfolio manager at Atlanta-based Globalt Investments, said there haven't been new trade or central-bank developments this month to really move the needle in the stock market.
"We're in a topping-out phase as the major pieces of news that had really been driving the market haven't been developing," Mr. Martin said, adding that investors are looking ahead to next week's two-day Fed meeting for further clues on the health of the economy.
On Thursday, sluggish Chinese economic data weighed on investor sentiment. Official data showed that industrial output there slowed more than expected in January and February, adding to concerns that the world's second-biggest economy is slowing down. Last year, the Chinese economy grew at its slowest rate in nearly three decades.
President Trump indicated Wednesday that he wasn't in any rush to agree to a trade deal with China. Last month, Mr. Trump spoke optimistically about a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to finish negotiations by the end of March. Now a March agreement looks unlikely, U.S. officials said, who are talking instead of an April date.
"We are living in a tug of war between bad cyclical indicators and improving monetary conditions," said Alain Bokobza, head of global asset allocation at Société Générale. "Those opposing forces for markets won't change anytime soon."
Shares of General Electric rose 28 cents, or 2.8%, to $10.30, as the conglomerate outlined plans to cut costs and debt but warned investors of another year of lower profit and weak cash flow from its core industrial operations.
Boeing's stock fell $3.84, or 1%, to $373.30, as the aerospace company continued to wrestle with the fallout from a crash Sunday of one of its planes. The U.S. has joined several other countries in grounding 737 MAX airliners. Boeing shares, a big piece of the Dow, have slumped 11% this week.
Snap shares surged 12% to $11.28 after financial-services firm BTIG upgraded the social-media company's stock to buy from neutral with a $15 price target on expectations for strong ad sales.
In Europe, U.K. lawmakers voted Thursday to delay Britain's scheduled exit date from the European Union beyond March 29, setting the stage for a possible third vote on Prime Minister Theresa May's withdrawal deal early next week. The Stoxx Europe 600 closed 0.8% higher ahead of the decision while the British pound fell 0.8% against the dollar. The WSJ Dollar Index, which tracks the dollar against a basket of 16 currencies, rose 0.3%. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield rose to 2.628% from 2.612% Wednesday. Yields move inversely to prices.In Asia, the Shanghai Composite slid 1.2%, while Hong Kong and Japanese stocks were flat.
Write to Jessica Menton at Jessica.Menton@wsj.com and Georgi Kantchev at firstname.lastname@example.org