Wall St. pares gains as defensive stocks offset trade optimism

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Wall Street edged higher after pulling back from stronger gains on Monday as weakness in defensive stocks offset trade optimism after U.S. President Donald Trump’s conciliatory remarks toward China’s ZTE Corp indicated easing U.S.-China trade tensions.

FILE PHOTO: Traders and guests gather for the IPO of PermRock Royalty Trust on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The S&P 500 .SPX briefly crossed into negative territory after hitting a roughly two-month high earlier in the session, but was back on track for its fourth straight day of gains.

On Sunday, Trump vowed to help ZTE (000063.SZ) “get back into business, fast” nearly a month after the Commerce Department implemented a ban on U.S. companies selling to the company.

Trump’s reversal came as high-level trade talks between the world’s two largest economies were due to resume this week after Washington’s tough stance on trade and tariffs put the countries on track for a potential trade war.

“It seems like there’s a little less concern about a trade war with China given some of the overtures that President Trump made,” said Chuck Carlson, chief executive officer at Horizon Investment Services in Hammond, Indiana. “They’re hoping for a dying down of the trade war rhetoric and, quite frankly, they’re probably looking for some successful deals (to be) made.”

At 2:44PM ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 69.95 points, or 0.28 percent, to 24,901.12, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 1.89 points, or 0.07 percent, to 2,729.61 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 11.69 points, or 0.16 percent, to 7,414.57.

With 91 percent of S&P 500 companies having reported first-quarter results, earnings were on track to have climbed 26.1 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

“It was expected to be good and it was good,” Carlson said. “The issue … that the market’s still grappling with is are these earnings creating such a high hurdle for future earnings.”

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, defensive utilities .SPLRCU, telecoms .SPLRCL and real estate .SPLRCR stocks were the among the biggest percentage losers. Energy .SPNY and healthcare .SPXHC saw the largest gains.

U.S. optical component maker stocks received a boost from the ZTE news, with Acacia Communications (ACIA.O) up 9.1 percent and Oclaro Inc (OCLR.O) and Lumentum Holdings Inc (LITE.O) advancing 4.5 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively.

Shares of defense contractors such as Raytheon (RTN.N), Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) and Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N) weighed on the markets, as investors pointed to easing geopolitical tensions.

Xerox Corp (XRX.N) shares tumbled 5.4 percent after abandoning a planned $6.1 billion deal with Fujifilm Holdings Corp (4901.T).

Shares of Viacom Inc (VIAB.O) were down 7.0 percent after CBS Corp (CBS.N) sued to stop controlling shareholder Shari Redstone from continuing with her plan to merge it with Viacom. CBS rose 3.2 percent.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.02-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.08-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

Reporting by Stephen Culp; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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