Wall St. treads water ahead of high-stakes U.S.-China trade meeting

(Reuters) – U.S. stocks treaded water on Friday heading into a U.S.-China trade meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit, whose outcome would decide the fate of the ongoing trade dispute that has roiled financial markets.

Markets took relief from the comments of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer that he would be surprised if Saturday’s dinner between U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping “wasn’t a success”.

Conflicting headlines on trade have jolted markets in the run up to the two-day meeting of 20 industrialized nations in Buenos Aires.

President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was close to making a deal but was not sure if he wants to do it, while news that Trump’s hardline trade adviser Peter Navarro, will attend the meeting between Trump and Xi, added to worries.

“People don’t want to get too optimistic heading into a meeting, because the president is kind of a wild card,” said Robert Pavlik, chief investment strategist and senior portfolio manager at SlateStone Wealth LLC in New York.

“You don’t know how tough he’ll be with this meeting and these negotiations.”

The defensive real estate .SPLRCR rose 0.56 percent, utilities .SPLRCU gained 0.37 percent and the consumer staples sector .SPLRCS up 0.27, led the gains among the six major S&P sectors trading higher.

At 9:52 a.m. EDT the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was down 57.97 points, or 0.23 percent, at 25,280.87, the S&P 500 .SPX was down 1.57 points, or 0.06 percent, at 2,736.19 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was down 6.44 points, or 0.09 percent, at 7,266.64.

So far this week, dovish comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and the latest Fed minutes have helped the benchmark S&P 500 rise nearly 4 percent, setting it on course to post its biggest percentage gain in nine months.

Energy stocks .SPNY fell 0.83 percent, weighed by lower oil prices. [O/R]

General Electric (GE.N) shares fell 4.6 percent in premarket trading after the Wall Street Journal reported several former employees told the U.S. securities regulator the company failed to acknowledge worsening results in the insurance business.

Marriott International Inc (MAR.O) dropped 5.8 percent after the company said a guest reservation database of its Starwood Hotel brand was breached, potentially exposing information on about 500 million guests.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.24-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.09-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 15 new 52-week highs and four new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 17 new highs and 29 new lows.

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