US-China Trade Talks Uncertainty Ruffles Wall Street

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By Investors Hub

The major U.S. index futures are pointing to a roughly flat opening on Wednesday, with stocks likely to extend the lackluster performance seen in the previous session.

Traders may be reluctant to make significant moves as they wait for developments regarding the latest round of trade talks between the U.S. and China.

Officials from the U.S. and China are meeting in Washington this week as the world’s two largest economies attempt to reach a long-term trade deal.

The U.S. and China currently face an early March deadline to strike an agreement, although President Donald Trump has suggested the deadline could be postponed.

An editorial by state-run Chinese newspaper the Global Times warned the global stock markets could face a “catastrophic strike” if Trump raises tariffs on Chinese goods as currently planned.

“In terms of avoiding such blows, the Trump administration is probably the most pressured,” the Global Times wrote. “Thus in general, by the end of the trade negotiations, China and the US have become more psychologically equal.”

“Both sides have showed their strength and volition in the unprecedented trade war: The US didn’t easily stop and China was not that fragile to be defeated,” the paper added. “However, it has proven no empty talk that in a long-term trade war, both sides would eventually lose.”

Trump has claimed China is under pressure to avoid an increase in tariffs, citing recent weakness in the Chinese economy and stock markets.

Traders are also likely to look ahead to this afternoon’s release of the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy meeting held in late January.

The minutes may shed additional light on the Fed’s shift toward a “patient” approach regarding future interest rate hikes.

Stocks fluctuated over the course of the trading session on Tuesday as traders returned to their desks following the long holiday weekend.

After spending the morning bouncing back and forth across the unchanged line, the major averages climbed more firmly into positive territory in the afternoon.

The major averages pulled back going into the close but still ended the day modestly higher. The Dow inched up 8.07 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 25,891.32, the Nasdaq rose 14.36 points or 0.2 percent to 7,486.77 and the S&P 500 edged up 4.16 points or 0.2 percent to 2,779.76.

The choppy trading came amid uncertainty about the potential for a trade deal between the U.S. and China as the next round of trade talks get underway in Washington, D.C. this week.

News that China accused the U.S. of attempting to curtail its technology development by putting pressure on allies to shun networks supplied by Huawei Technologies raised concerns about tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

However, President Donald Trump later told reporters the U.S.-China trade talks are “going very well” and once again hinted that an early March deadline to reach a deal could be postponed.

“I can’t tell you exactly about timing, but the date is not a magical date,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “A lot of things can happen.”

Trump claimed China is “trying to move fast” so that an increase in tariffs on Chinese goods currently set to take effect does not happen.

On the U.S. economic front, the National Association of Home Builders released a report showing a much bigger than expected improvement in homebuilder confidence in the month of February.

The report said the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index climbed to 62 in February after rising to 58 in January. Economists had expected the index to inch up to 59.

With the increase, the index continued to recover after hitting a more than three-year low of 56 in December.

“Ongoing reduction in mortgage rates in recent weeks coupled with continued strength in the job market are helping to fuel builder sentiment,” said NAHB Chairman Randy Noel.

He added, “In the aftermath of the fall slowdown, many builders are reporting positive expectations for the spring selling season.”

Most of the major sectors ended the day showing only modest moves, although substantial strength was visible among gold stocks.

Reflecting the strength in the gold sector, the NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index spiked by 4.4 percent to its best closing level in over seven months. The rally by gold stocks came amid a sharp increase by the price of the precious metal.

Considerable strength was also visible among brokerage stocks, as reflected by the 1.4 percent gain posted by the NYSE Arca Broker/Dealer Index. The index reached a three-month closing high.

On the other hand, telecom stocks saw substantial weakness on the day, dragging the NYSE Arca North American Telecom Index down by 3.1 percent. The steep drop by the index came after it skyrocketed to its best closing level in over two months last Friday.

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