Dow slides after Commerce Secretary says US, China still far away on trade deal

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell on Thursday amid lingering concern over U.S.-China trade negotiations.

The 30-stock index dipped 73 points, led by losses in Merck and Pfizer. The S&P 500 also declined, trading 0.15 percent lower as the consumer staples and health care sectors lagged. The Nasdaq Composite outperformed, rising 0.3 percent.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said earlier on Thursday that China and the U.S. were not close to striking a trade deal. Ross told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that the U.S. is “miles and miles” from a trade deal with China, adding the two countries have “lots and lots of issues.”

His comments come as China and the U.S. try to strike a trade deal before the beginning of March. If they don’t, additional U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods will come into effect. The two countries have been engaged in a trade war since last year.

“This clearly remains the largest unresolved geopolitical force for the US equity market,” said Michael Shaoul, chairman and CEO of Marketfield Asset Management, in a note. “Most of the market moves this week were driven by competing headlines regarding the US/China trade dispute.”

Solid earnings reports helped lessen the blow from Ross’ comments on Thursday. Bristol-Myers Squibb, American Airlines and JetBlue were among the companies that posted better-than-expected earnings. Results from Citrix and Texas Instruments also topped estimates.

The earnings season continues later on Thursday, with Intel, Starbucks and Western Digital among the companies scheduled to report after the close.

“We are early in the fourth-quarter reporting season. Results are coming, early on, largely as expected. We’re still continuing to see reasonable revenue growth and double-digit earnings growth,” said Bill Northey, senior investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. But “there has been a notable erosion to 2019 full-year estimates. That’s consistent with the growing, but slowing, thesis in economic growth.”

Investors also kept an eye on Washington as the U.S. government shutdown entered its 34th straight day.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that Democrats would block President Donald Trump from delivering his State of the Union address until the government reopened — an announcement that Trump complied with.

James Gorman, CEO at Morgan Stanley, said it will be “extremely negative” for the U.S. if the shutdown continues for much longer. “If it goes on through months of this year, it’s going to have an extremely damaging effect” on the U.S. economy, he said.

For now, the U.S. labor market appears to be holding up well. Weekly jobless claims fell to 199,000 last week, their lowest in 49 years.

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