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US: Wall Street finishes higher after tariff-tied volatility

[NEW YORK] Continued uncertainty over US trade policy sent Wall Street on another choppy ride on Tuesday, with stocks eking out a positive finish after a highly volatile session.

The major indices moved in and out of positive territory as investors struggled to discern whether President Donald Trump would press ahead with restrictive new trade measures.

The benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average finished essentially flat, turning positive by less than a tenth of a percentage point in the final minutes to close at 24,884.05.

The broader S&P 500 gained 0.3 per cent to close at 2,728.12 while the tech-heavy Nasdaq rose a stronger 0.6 per cent to settle at 7,372.01.

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North Korea added a measure of calm early in the day after South Korean officials said the reclusive state was willing to negotiate an end to its nuclear program.

In Washington, Republican congressional leaders emphasised their opposition to President Donald Trump's proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum.

But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin hammered home the notion that Canada and Mexico could be exempted from the tariffs if talks to revamp the North American Trade Agreement were successful - a prospect that calmed investors.

"A lot of nervousness, a lot of uncertainty coming out of Washington and investors are not sure of what that means, whether it will it be limited or the ramifications have broader impact," Adam Sarhan of Park 50 investments told AFP.

Mr Sarhan said some form of tariffs were likely to be adopted but investors might learn to live with this.

"If we start seeing some big resignations or big shake up, that would be a different story," he added.

Senior White House economic advisor Gary Cohn is reportedly considering resigning after losing an internal battle over whether to impose the tariffs, but he also is planning a meeting of major metal-dependent manufacturers to try to sway the final decision.

Auto giant General Motors, which would be directly affected by higher costs for metal components, gained 0.5 per cent for the day.

Meanwhile, chipmaker Qualcomm fell 2.9 per cent after a US government national security panel called for a full investigation into efforts by Singapore's Broadcom to acquire the company.

Retail chain Target lost 4.5 per cent after posting lower-than-expected holiday shopping profits.

AFP