FILE- In this Feb. 5, 2019, file photo trader John Panin works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The U.S. stock market opens at 9:30 a.m. EST on Monday, Feb. 11. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

US stock indexes are mixed ahead of US-China trade talks

February 11, 2019 - 2:13 pm

U.S. stocks veered between small gains and losses in afternoon trading Monday as Wall Street nears the end of a relatively strong earnings season and looks ahead to key trade talks between the U.S. and China.

Losses in communications, health care and utilities stocks outweighed gains in retail, industrial and energy companies as the market gave up an early gain.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin is leading a delegation set to meet with Chinese officials on Thursday and Friday. The talks are aimed at resolving a trade war that threatens to stunt global economic growth, in part by raising prices on goods for consumers and companies. The situation could get worse when a truce on tariffs expires in early March.

Economists' fears of a global slowdown were given additional fuel from a report Monday showing Britain's economy had its slowest economic growth since the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Both Europe overall and China are contending with slower growth.

Corporate earnings are so far mixed on a light day for reporting. The owner of Tim Horton's and Burger King, Restaurant Brands, jumped after reporting strong earnings results. Commercial insurer Loews plunged on a fourth-quarter loss caused by higher catastrophe losses.

So far, 66.4 percent of companies in the S&P 500 have reported earnings, with 69 percent beating analysts' forecasts. Earnings growth came in at 14.5 percent for the quarter. But some companies have tempered their outlooks and analysts currently expect a 2 percent contraction in the first quarter.

Looking ahead, beverage and consumer product giants Coca-Cola and Nestle will report earnings this week.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 61 points, or 0.3 percent, to 25,044 as of 1:55 p.m. Eastern time. The S&P 500 index and Nasdaq composite were little changed. European markets finished higher.

COFFEE, EH?: A surge in sales at Tim Hortons helped parent company Restaurant Brands gain ground on the market. The company, which also operates Burger King, beat Wall Street forecasts, beat key sales measures for both Tim Horton's and Burger King. The stock added 1.9 percent.

BURRITO BIO-PIC: Chipotle hired documentary filmmaker Errol Morris to create ads showcasing its kitchens, prep routines and partners. Morris is the director of the Oscar-winning documentary "Fog of War".

The Mexican-food chain is still rehabilitating its image years after a series of food-borne illnesses scared away customers and drove sales lower.

The stock climbed 3.8 percent.

FEEL THE SURGE: Shares of Tesla rose 2.9 percent. Canaccord upgraded the stock from "Hold" to "Buy" and wrote in a note that results for the last two quarters and Tesla's outlook have removed "significant concerns" for Model 3 production and profitability.

Also, LMC Automotive estimated that the Model 3 was the top-selling luxury car in the U.S. last year, outselling the Lexus ES by more than two to one.

TAKING A HIT: Loews slid 6.4 percent after the commercial insurer booked a fourth-quarter loss due to higher catastrophe losses.

NOT PLAYING: Activision Blizzard shares fell 6 percent following a Bloomberg report saying the video game company plans to announce layoffs on Tuesday, when it's scheduled to report quarterly results. The report, which Bloomberg posted late Friday, cited unnamed people familiar with the matter.

Shares in rivals Take-Two Interactive and Electronic Arts took a beating last week after the companies gave investors a weak outlook for the current quarter.

On Monday, Take-Two slid 4 percent. But Electronic Arts, which recovered Friday on strong sales of a new game, gained another 2.3 percent.

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