By Alexander Osipovich
Major U.S. stock indexes wobbled between gains and losses as fresh doubts emerged over the prospects for a trade deal with China.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average inched up 0.1% in afternoon trading. The S&P 500 slipped 0.1%, while the Nasdaq Composite fell 0.3%. All three indexes are near record highs.
The S&P 500 was in positive territory at midday, but tumbled after The Wall Street Journal reported that trade talks had hit a snag over Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural goods.
The report punctured some of investors' recent optimism over a "phase one" trade deal between the U.S. and China, which has lifted stocks to record highs in recent days.
Another key question hanging over trade talks is whether Washington will agree to remove existing tariffs on Chinese imports to secure an initial deal with Beijing, rather than just lifting the threat of further levies due Dec. 15.
Investors are likely to be cautious without concrete signs of progress on trade, analysts cautioned.
"The euphoria of an imminent trade deal has dissipated," said Mike Loewengart, vice president of investment strategy at E*Trade. "Expectations should be tempered given the back-and-forth we've seen over the past year."
Earlier in the session, U.S. stocks got a boost after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell signaled that the U.S. central bank was still willing to step in and support economic growth.
Speaking to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the Fed chief said he didn't see a need to adjust monetary policy after three interest-rate cuts this year. But he added that the Fed was open to reassessing its stance if conditions worsened.
Mr. Powell struck a "slightly more dovish tone" than at his most recent press conference in October, when he signaled that the Fed was done cutting rates for now, said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial.
"In other words, the pause is not set in stone," she said.
Meanwhile, overseas markets were rattled as unrest gripped Hong Kong, including parts of the financial district. The Hang Seng fell 1.8%, while Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 0.9%.
In Europe, the benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 dropped 0.3%.
"The escalation of violence has caused some market jitters," said Daryl Liew, head of portfolio management at REYL Singapore.
Haven assets made gains. The yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury slipped to 1.872%, from 1.909% Tuesday. Yields move in the opposite direction from prices. Gold futures climbed 0.7% to $1461.70 a troy ounce.
New data showed U.S. consumer prices rose slightly more than expected last month, driven by higher energy costs. The consumer-price index rose a seasonally adjusted 0.4% in October from the previous month, the Labor Department said. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast a 0.3% rise.
In his testimony, Mr. Powell said stable inflation -- along with moderate economic growth and a strong jobs market -- were factors supporting the Fed's stance that new rate cuts were unnecessary.
In earnings news, shares of Energizer Holdings jumped 13% after the battery manufacturer's revenue growth came in better than expected.
Cloud-based data analytics company Datadog's shares rallied 16% after its earnings beat expectations, reporting results for its first quarter as a public company.
Meanwhile, SmileDirectClub, a teeth-straightening startup that was also reporting for the first time since its initial public offering, tumbled 19% after it said losses had widened in the latest quarter.
Technology giant Cisco Systems will report earnings later Wednesday.
In commodities, U.S. crude oil futures gained 1.2%.
Anna Isaac and Joanne Chiu contributed to this article.
Write to Alexander Osipovich at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 13, 2019 14:42 ET (19:42 GMT)
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