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US: S&P 500 eases amid US-China trade uncertainty

[NEW YORK] The S&P 500 slipped on Thursday, snapping a three-day streak of gains, as uncertainty over when a trade deal between the United States and China would be reached left investors on edge.

US President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday that discussions with China to end a months-long trade war are progressing quickly, though Mr Trump said he could not say whether a final deal would be reached.

Mr Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping had been expected to hold a summit in Florida this month, but no date has been set. A person familiar with the matter told Reuters there "were rumblings" about a possible meeting late next month.

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that a meeting between the two was more likely to take place in April at the earliest.

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Chipmakers, which rely on China for a large portion of their revenue, lost ground, with the Philadelphia SE chip index off 0.6 per cent.

"The good news is mildly negative news on China trade doesn't tip the apple cart over anymore," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York.

"But breaking out of the next level of resistance has been a wall to get through. It shows we're probably range-bound 2,750 to 2,800 until we get answers to China trade, Brexit etc.," he said, referring to the level of the S&P 500.

In the latest of a series of votes, British lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to seek a delay in Britain's exit from the European Union.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 7.05 points, or 0.03 per cent, to 25,709.94, the S&P 500 lost 2.44 points, or 0.09 per cent, to 2,808.48, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 12.50 points, or 0.16 per cent, to 7,630.91.

Boeing Co, the single largest US exporter to China, slipped 1 per cent. The world's largest planemaker had its own troubles this week after its money-spinning 737 MAX jets were grounded globally following a fatal crash in Ethiopia on Sunday.

Facebook Inc shares fell 1.8 per cent to US$170.17 after the world's largest social network suffered a major outage that frustrated users across the globe for about 24 hours. Facebook said it had restored the service to its main app and Instagram.

After the bell, Facebook's stock was down 1.5 per cent after chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg said in a blog post that chief product officer Chris Cox will leave the social media network.

Shares of Adobe were down 2.1 per cent in extended trading after the company gave a disappointing revenue forecast for the current quarter as it reported quarterly results.

During the regular session, General Electric shares rose 2.8 per cent to US$10.30 after chief executive Larry Culp set conservative profit targets for this year and vowed for a better 2020 and beyond.

Apple Inc rose 1.1 per cent to US$183.73, extending recent gains, after brokerage Cowen and Co started coverage with an "outperform" rating. An Apple-led technology rally has propped up markets recently.

On the economic front, a US Commerce Department report showed sales of new single-family homes fell more than expected in January, suggesting that housing market weakness persisted early in the first quarter.

The PHLX housing index dipped 0.5 per cent on the news. The downbeat housing data followed tame inflation reports this week, which underscored the Federal Reserve's patient stance on future interest rate hikes.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.24-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.33-to-1 ratio favoured decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 42 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 66 new highs and 46 new lows.

Volume on US exchanges was 6.69 billion shares, compared to the 7.37 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

REUTERS