Stocks struggle for direction as investors parse trade news, weak Chinese economic data


U.S. stocks struggled to extend gains Thursday for a fourth session in a row, as investors eye headlines suggesting progress toward a U.S.-China trade deal has stalled, weaker-than-expected data in China, a grounding of a key Boeing jet and a Brexit saga playing out in the U.K.

How are major indexes performing?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.03%  rose 25 points, or 0.1% to 25,72, while the S&P 500 index SPX, -0.08% fell roughly 2 points, or 0.1% at 2,809. Meanwhile, the Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -0.11%  ticked down 8 points, or 0.1%, to reach 7,635.

What’s driving markets?

Disappointing industrial output from China on Thursday provided fresh signs that the world’s second-largest economy has continued to decelerate, with the economy expanding at its slowest rate in about 30 years, heightening anxieties about sluggish global growth.

Bloomberg News reported Thursday that a meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be delayed until at least April, news that appeared to weigh on stock-index futures.

The news comes after Trump told reporters in the White House Wednesday that he was in no rush to strike a trade agreement with China, and said there remained the possibility that he could walk away, even as he expressed optimism about progress in talks.

Meanwhile, U.K. lawmakers a day ago ruled out a no-deal exit from the European Union, as expected, but now lawmakers must vote in favor of a further proposal to request an extension, or delay of so-called Article 50, Britain’s scheduled exit from the European Union date beyond March 29. That would require the unanimous approval of the other 27 EU governments.

Thursday’s vote comes after May lost a vote to push forward her revised Brexit plan by a 149-vote margin. However, she could bring forth the same deal to Parliament next week, political experts say.

Market participants have closely watched Brexit negotiations because the threat of a disorderly exit from the EU by Britain could roil global markets here and abroad.

Meanwhile, Boeing Co. shares were edging slightly higher in Thursday premarket a day after President Donald Trump told reporters that U.S. regulators grounded 737 Max 8 and 9 aircraft in line with similar decisions in other countries. However, industry experts said that although Boeing’s reputation will suffer, the latest incidents aren’t likely to have a lasting impact on the company.

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What data are ahead?

The number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment benefits rose by 6,000 to 229,000 during the week ended March 9, above the 225,000 reading expected by economists polled by MarketWatch.

The price of imported goods rose by 0.6% in February, the largest one-month increase in nine months, the government said Friday. Nevertheless, the 12-month change in import prices remains in negative territory, down 1.3% since last March. Moreover, the monthly rise was attributable to fuel prices.

At 10 a.m., the government will issue a report on new home sales for the month of January.

Which stocks are in focus?

Boeing shares BA, -0.50% rose 0.6% early Thursday, though the stock has lost 10.1% so far this week.

Facebook Inc. shares FB, -1.87%  were off 2.2%, after the New York Times reported that a grand jury under the supervision of prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York is undertaking a criminal investigation into the social-media platform’s data-sharing practices.

Southwest Airlines CoLUV, +1.06%  also were in focus because a chunk of the air carrier’s fleet is Boeing 737 MAX jets. Shares of the company, however, rose 2.3% Thursday.

General Electric CoGE, +2.84% shares were up 3.7% Thursday as the company hosted an analyst event and released its 2019 outlook.

Shares of Dollar General CorpDG, -9.56% fell 7.8% early Thursday, after the discount retailer reported a fiscal fourth-quarter profit that missed expectations and provided a downbeat earnings and sales outlook.

Johnson & Johnson JNJ, -0.82% shares were in focus Thursday, after the company was ordered to pay $29 million to a woman dying of cancer. The court determined J&J was liable in the suit, which claimed the cancer — mesothelioma — was caused by the asbestos in the company’s talcum powder, the reports said. The stock was down 0.7% Thursday.

What are strategists saying?

“After a few quiet days outside of Boeing and Brexit to kick off the week, the flow of news is a bit more active this morning,” wrote Paul Hickey of Bespoke Investment Group, in a Thursday note to clients.

“Positive sentiment in equity futures has quickly worn off this morning as headlines indicate that the U.S. and China have put off a planned meeting between President Trump and President Xi later this month,” he added. “The meeting now won’t occur until April at least. Sticking points like the treatment of intellectual property remain unresolved. The delay shouldn’t be entirely surprising given the president’s comments just yesterday that he was in no rush to sign a deal.”

How did the major benchmarks fare yesterday?

On Wednesday, the Dow climbed 148.23 points, or 0.6%, to 25,702.89. The S&P 500 index SPX, -0.10% added 19.40 points, or 0.7%, to end at 2,810.92, its highest close since Nov. 7. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 52.37 points, or 0.7%, at 7,643.41.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq are attempting to rise for a fourth straight day, while the Dow is aiming for back-to-back wins.

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How are other markets trading?

Stock markets in Asia ended Thursday lower after data showing that Chinese industrial production slowed more than expected in January and February. The Shanghai Composite SHCOMP, -1.20% index fell 1.2%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 NIK, -0.02% edged down.

European stocks, meanwhile, were on the rise Thursday, with the Stoxx Europe 600 SXXP, +0.63% adding 0.7%.

Crude oil CLJ9, +0.50% prices were on pace to extend their three-day winning streak, up 0.4%. Gold prices GCJ9, -1.12% also traded lower, while the U.S. dollar DXY, +0.30% rose in value.


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