U.S. Stocks Tread Water Amid Trade and Growth Tensions
By Jessica Menton and Georgi Kantchev
U.S. stocks flipped between gains and losses Thursday as investors continued to weigh global trade tensions and concerns about slowing economic growth.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average ticked up 20 points, or 0.1%, to 25721. The S&P 500 added less than 0.1% and the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 0.1%. Gains in financial shares in the broad S&P 500 were offset by declines in material stocks. 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, 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 so-called 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 U.S. 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. Those opposing forces for markets won't change anytime soon," said Alain Bokobza, head of global asset allocation at Société Générale.
In Thursday's action, shares of struggling conglomerate General Electric rose 2.8% as it outlined plans to cut costs and debt but warned investors of another year of lower profits and weak cash flow from its core industrial operations.
Meanwhile, Boeing's stock slipped 0.3% as the aerospace giant 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.
In Europe, the Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.8% after U.K. lawmakers late Wednesday ruled out a no-deal exit from the European Union. Lawmakers will now likely vote Thursday in favor of a further proposal to request a delay in Britain's scheduled exit date beyond March 29.
The British pound fell 0.5% against the dollar Thursday, after rallying around 2% Wednesday following the vote.
The WSJ Dollar Index, which tracks the dollar against a basket of 16 currencies, was up 0.3%. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield rose to 2.637% from 2.612% Wednesday. Yields move inversely to prices.
Elsewhere, the Shanghai Composite slid 1.2% while stocks in Hong Kong and Japan were mostly flat.
Write to Jessica Menton at Jessica.Menton@wsj.com and Georgi Kantchev at email@example.com