By Stephen Culp
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Wall Street see-sawed on Monday, rarely straying far from opening levels as investors eyed ongoing U.S.-China trade talks, potential congressional gridlock and a diminished 2019 earnings outlook.
The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq eked out nominal gains while the blue chip Dow edged lower.
Both Beijing and Washington expressed optimism about trade negotiations between the world’s two largest economies, even as a U.S. Navy mission in the disputed South China Sea provoked China’s anger.
In Washington, congressional leaders attempted to reach an agreement on border security funding in a bid to avert another government shutdown.
With two-thirds of S&P 500 companies having reported, the fourth-quarter earnings season approached the home stretch. So far, 71.2 percent have posted better-than-expected profits.
Fourth-quarter earnings growth is now estimated at 16.5 percent, up from 15.8 percent at the beginning of the year.
But first-quarter 2019 profit growth expectations have diminished. Analysts now see the year starting with quarterly earnings dropping 0.2 percent from last year, which would mark the first contraction since the second quarter of 2016.
“It speaks to concerns about the global slowdown that people are growing more aware of,” said Robert Pavlik, chief investment strategist and senior portfolio manager at SlateStone Wealth LLC in New York. “It’s the effects of tariffs and a somewhat tighter monetary policy.
“Guidance has been a mixed bag and trade uncertainty is the major connecting issue,” Pavlik added.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 53.22 points, or 0.21 percent, to 25,053.11, the S&P 500 gained 1.92 points, or 0.07 percent, to 2,709.8 and the Nasdaq Composite added 9.71 points, or 0.13 percent, to 7,307.91.
Losses on Monday were concentrated. Of the 11 major S&P sectors, only communications services, utilities and healthcare closed in the red.
Tariff-sensitive industrial stocks provided the biggest lift to the S&P 500, led by Union Pacific Corp, General Electric Co and FedEx Corp, among others.
Healthcare stocks were the biggest drag on the Dow, pulled down by UnitedHealth Group Inc and Pfizer Inc and Merck & Co, each down more than 1 percent.
Shares of Tesla Inc rose 2.3 percent after Cannacord Genuity upgraded the stock to “buy” from “hold.” It said the electric automaker’s recent price cuts are helping achieve its goal of an affordable Model 3.
Apple Inc edged 0.6 percent lower after industry research firm IDC said in a report that iPhone sales in China fell by 20 percent in the fourth quarter.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.86-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.52-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 32 new 52-week highs and 3 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 62 new highs and 23 new lows.
Volume on U.S. exchanges was 6.23 billion shares, compared with the 7.43 billion average over the last 20 trading days.
(Reporting by Stephen Culp; Editing by Dan Grebler)